. (Bloomberg) US Attorney General Merrick Garland claimed he personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, the home of ex-President Donald Trump, and is now requesting that the warrant and the items seized by the FBI be unsealed.
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During his first public comments about the search, Garland said, “The department does not take such a decision lightly” on Thursday.
The FBI conducted a search of Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate on Monday, looking for classified documents that Trump may have illegally removed from the White House.
Garland’s comments contradicted the onslaught of criticism from Trump and his Republican allies over the unprecedented search of a former president’s home and were a sharp departure from the department’s usual practice of not discussing an ongoing investigation.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that, according to sources familiar with the investigation, agents searched for documents related to nuclear weapons. If those items were found during the search, the people didn’t mention it.
The Department of Justice and the FBI both declined to comment on the report, and Trump’s personal lawyer, Alina Habba, did not return a message seeking comment.
The docket originally stated Trump had until August 25 to state whether or not he objected to the warrant’s unsealing. The judge then issued an order giving the DOJ until Friday at 3:00 p.m. to consult with Trump’s legal team and inform the court of Trump’s opposition.
Now that the search had been carried out and Trump and his representatives had spoken publicly about it, Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing that the original reasons for sealing some of the warrant materials were no longer relevant.
The Justice Department argued that “the public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing” in the filing.
If the judge agrees to the government’s request, the public will be able to view a copy of the search warrant, as well as any appendices that detail the scope of the search and may indicate the types of federal crimes being investigated. Separate from the search warrant application, prosecutors must file an affidavit with the court.
An investigation into whether Trump improperly retained presidential records, including classified materials, after his official departure from office in January 2021 led to the search and seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago. Several federal laws could be broken if presidential records were taken without permission.
The Justice Department had previously stated in writing that they would not take any action to release the documents until Trump had the opportunity to raise objections based on “legitimate privacy interests” or other possible harm.
Jay Bratt, head of the National Security Division’s counterintelligence and export control section, signed the government’s unsealing request, indicating that investigators are likely to be interested in any potentially sensitive documents in Trump’s possession. According to previous CNN reports, Bratt had traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate earlier in the summer to meet with Trump’s legal team and review documents. This was clearly not a routine government court filing, as it was also signed by the US attorney in Miami, Juan Gonzalez.
This filing was made after several media outlets and advocacy groups requested that a federal magistrate judge in Florida unseal the search warrant docket. The government has until early next week to respond, as set by US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart.
When asked for comment on the government’s motion to unseal the warrant, Habba also declined.
Trump supporters claimed the search warrant was politically motivated, despite the fact that it required the approval of a federal judge who determined there was probable cause that a search would yield evidence of crimes. There were also unfounded claims made by some conservative commentators, such as the possibility that FBI agents planted evidence.
After Garland’s comments, Trump made a statement on Truth Social Media claiming that his lawyers and representatives had been fully cooperating and that the search itself was unexpected.
If we’d had it, the government could have taken whatever it wanted. They requested that we secure a specific area with an extra lock; COMPLETED. The situation at Mar-a-Lago was “great, far better than that of most previous Presidents, and then, with no advance warning, it was raided,” Trump wrote.
In its court filing, the Justice Department claimed that it had informed Trump’s attorney “at the time the warrant was initially executed.” Garland responded strongly to what he saw as baseless claims about the competence of FBI and DOJ personnel.
“I will not remain silent when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland declared. The FBI and DOJ employees are hardworking, patriotic public servants, as stated by numerous public figures.
Garland, a former top Justice Department official who is now a federal appeals judge, has promised to reverse what Democrats see as Trump’s attempts to politicize federal law enforcement if he is confirmed as attorney general.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted on Monday that Garland was engaging in “weaponized politicization” of the Justice Department, a charge that Republicans have been using against him for the past few days. That was in line with a statement Trump had made earlier in which he called the search “prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”
If the Republicans regain control of the House in November, McCarthy said Garland should “preserve documents and clear your calendar” because the attorney general would face rigorous hearings.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell responded more calmly, but still demanded an explanation for the search of the former president’s home. McConnell said on Tuesday that Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice should have answered questions from the American people by now.
(Revised with new information from the Washington Post in the fifth paragraph.)
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