As remarkable as it was for the Justice Department to ask a federal judge on Thursday to unseal the warrant it used this week to search Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald J. Trump’s private residence in Florida, the materials that prosecutors have agreed to make public are not the most informative or sensitive connected to the case.
The government is not yet seeking to release what is known as the affidavit in support of the warrant, a document that lays out all sorts of telling details about the larger investigation of Mr. Trump — chief among them the reasons prosecutors believed there was probable cause that evidence of a crime could be found at Mar-a-Lago.
Affidavits for warrants are typically sworn to by federal agents and are used to persuade judges that it is worth invading someone’s privacy to collect proof of violations of the law. The affidavit supporting the search warrant for Mr. Trump’s home and members-only club presumably contains things like the specific laws that the government believes were broken and a brief narrative of the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s storage of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
It also likely includes a recitation of other methods — like grand jury subpoenas — that the government sought to use to retrieve the documents in an effort to persuade the judge that the search warrant was necessary.
Search warrant affidavits are almost never made public before charges and often remain permanently under seal if charges are never filed. However, once prosecutors open a criminal case, any warrant affidavits used during the inquiry will generally be turned over to the defense — though not in a public manner — as part of the discovery process.