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FBI affidavit may be ‘road map’ for Trump lawyers, Schiff warns

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., looks on during the fifth hearing by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2022.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Nick Miroff and Amy B Wang Washington Post

The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that public pressure to unseal the affidavit used in the search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida home could put FBI agents at personal risk or be used by Trump’s attorneys to intimidate witnesses.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he understood the public interest in seeing the affidavit “is real” but cautioned of the unintended consequences of releasing the document.

“I think the government makes a powerful case that at the early stage of the investigation, when it could jeopardize the pursuit of justice, this is not the time to be giving essentially the Trump lawyers a road map into how to intimidate witnesses or how to derail a legitimate investigation,” Schiff said.

Schiff’s comments came amid ongoing fallout from the Aug. 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in south Florida, where a large team of agents recovered boxes of documents that included top secret and highly classified materials.

Schiff pointed out that Trump has in the past retaliated against anyone he considers a whistleblower, including accusing them of treason. Schiff also referred to an armed person who was apparently motivated by Trump’s “incendiary rhetoric” to try to breach an FBI office in Ohio, and who was killed after an hours-long standoff.

Schiff, along with House Oversight Committee chair Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., asked the intelligence committee last week for a “damage assessment” report related to Trump’s mishandling of top secret information. On Sunday, Schiff said he had not received that yet but has “every expectation” it would be shared with lawmakers.

Schiff defended the Justice Department’s handling of the search, saying he was confident that Attorney General Merrick Garland “took every precaution” and “made every effort” to obtain the documents before the Mar-a-Lago search.

A federal judge who is weighing whether to unseal some of the affidavit said last week he is inclined to do so after asking the Justice Department to redact parts of it. Multiple news outlets, including the Washington Post, called on the court to release the affidavit.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio, told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” that the affidavit should be released to allow the public to see whether the search was justified as a matter of national security. “Show us what you found,” Turner said. “It certainly won’t affect the investigation.”

Turner said the public needs to understand why the FBI devoted extensive resources to the search at Mar-a-Lago at a time when the government is facing other “imminent national security threats” including Chinese espionage, the war in Ukraine, drug smuggling and human trafficking along the Mexico border.

Lawmakers from both parties Sunday criticized statements from some Republicans who attacked the FBI for the search at Mar-a-Lago.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said she was “ashamed to hear Republicans immediately and reflexively attack the FBI agents who executed a search warrant.”

Cheney, who suffered a landslide primary defeat last week widely seen as punishment for her opposition to Trump and her role as the vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, said she has seen no evidence of a partisan motivation for the FBI raid.

“I just think that for us as a party to be in a position where we’re reflexively attacking career law enforcement professionals in order to defend a former president who conducted himself the way this one did is – it’s a really sad day for the party,” she said.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex., labeled Republican calls to “defund the FBI” as “crazy.”

“Ninety-nine percent of Republicans are not on that train,” Crenshaw said.

But Crenshaw said the heated criticism of the bureau was not to blame for the Aug. 11 attempted assault on an FBI office in Ohio by a gunman who was killed by police.

“What we want is accountability. We want transparency,” he said. “And the criticisms that we’re leveling against the FBI and DOJ are fully warranted. It is not those criticisms that lead to a crazy person attacking an FBI.”

David Laufman, the former chief of counterintelligence at the Justice Department, said he thought the department would have to return to court with a “reasonable proposal” to a federal judge’s suggestion that parts of the affidavit used in the FBI search could be unsealed or released with redactions.

He stressed that the government will want to ensure that partisan actors don’t create a “carnival atmosphere” around the investigation.

“The Justice Department and the FBI want to do everything they can to protect the integrity in confidential law enforcement actions that are being taken,” Laufman said on “Face the Nation.”

“I think the Department and the FBI are now trying to come to grips with what they can live with, with regard to public disclosures,” he said. “And there are some portions of the affidavit that I think they’ll be willing to make public.”