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The redacted affidavit used to justify the Mar-a-Lago search has been released

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The affidavit the FBI used to get a warrant to search former President Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago is now public. A redacted version of the document was released around noon today by a federal court in Florida, and NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been going through it. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: So what have you learned from the pages that are not blacked out?

LUCAS: Well, this gives us the best peek behind the curtain yet of the FBI's investigation into how all these documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House. The affidavit tells us some of what we already knew - that the FBI's investigation began with a referral in February from the National Archives after the Archives recovered 15 boxes of materials from Mar-a-Lago in January. The affidavit says there were news articles and printouts and photos and notes and personal records in those boxes. But also tossed in with them were a bunch of classified materials - everything just thrown together. The FBI went through it. The affidavit says there were 184 classified documents, including 92 that were at the secret level, 25 that were top secret. And some of the documents had select classification markings indicating that they relate to clandestine human sources - so spies. Others related to signals intelligence, which would be the U.S. monitoring of foreign communications. This is all extremely sensitive stuff. It's considered national defense information. And the mishandling of that is part of what the FBI is investigating here.

SHAPIRO: All right. So that gives us some sense of why the justice department may have been so concerned that it took the unprecedented step of searching Mar-a-Lago. Does the affidavit say what drove that decision?

LUCAS: Well, that's definitely one of the main things that we were looking for in the affidavit. We know the Justice Department was concerned about that, concerned that Trump hadn't turned over all of the government documents. And there's a section in the affidavit that's devoted to explaining why there was probable cause to believe that documents with classified information and presidential records remained at Mar-a-Lago. Almost all of that section is blacked out. But we do know from the property receipt that was released after the search that the FBI did recover more classified documents at Mar-a-Lago when it conducted its search there.

SHAPIRO: About half of this affidavit is blacked out - dozens of pages. Is it surprising that that much has been redacted?

LUCAS: It's not. No. Attorneys familiar with these sorts of situations have been warning that this would likely be the case. And remember; the justice department didn't want any of this affidavit made public. Normally, these affidavits aren't released unless and until someone is charged with a crime. And that, of course, has not happened here. An affidavit, in a way, is - as the justice department described it - a road map of their investigation. And releasing it, the DOJ said, could undermine that investigation. But the justice department also argued that the affidavit contained sensitive information. It warned that releasing it could expose government witnesses who might then be endangered, might be reluctant to talk. And we got a little nugget of information on that front today from another document that was also unsealed. And in that document, the justice department says that there are a, quote, "significant number of civilian witnesses who have provided information to the government."

SHAPIRO: At one point, Trump called for this affidavit to be released. Now that it's out, what has he said?

LUCAS: Well, Trump put out a statement on his social media platform shortly after this was released in which he says the affidavit is heavily redacted. And he calls all of this a public relations subterfuge, essentially, by the government. And he attacks the judge who ordered this document to be released. This is a strategy that we've seen Trump employ for years now against the justice department and the FBI and others who are scrutinizing his actions. He's ramped that up since the Mar-a-Lago search. It's a strategy he's likely to continue as this investigation moves forward.

SHAPIRO: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.