Garland calls out Trump’s bluff as Justice Department moves to unseal warrant

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Thursday called former President Donald J. Trump a bluff.

Since the FBI executed a search warrant at Mr. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, Mr. Trump and his supporters have described the search as baseless and politically motivated.

The investigation focuses on whether Mr. Trump improperly took sensitive White House documents with him and then failed to return them all — including classified documents — when the National Archives and the Justice Department demanded it.

But Mr Trump has chosen to keep the warrant and list of what the FBI took from his club and his Mar-a-Lago estate secret – documents that most likely indicate what law or laws investigators think they have. been violated, what evidence supporting this belief they thought they would find there and what they seized upon.

Mr. Garland and investigators working on the case had made no public comment after the search, which allowed Mr. Trump and his supporters to make increasingly elaborate allegations of official wrongdoing and ‘abuse of power.

But on Thursday, Mr. Garland broke his silence.

Speaking from a podium at the Justice Department, the attorney general said he personally approved the search warrant request. He denounced the “unfounded attacks on the professionalism” and integrity of the FBI and prosecutors.

And – most importantly – he announced that the Justice Department had filed a motion to unseal the warrant used in the search, as well as the inventory of what the FBI had taken, so that the government could make them public.

In doing so, the attorney general hinted that Mr. Trump was free to release the documents himself, but chose not to. “Copies of the warrant and FBI property receipt were provided on the day of the search to the former president’s attorney, who was on site during the search,” Mr Garland said.

Acting quickly, a federal magistrate judge — Bruce E. Reinhart, who has also been attacked by Trump supporters — set a 3 p.m. deadline on Friday for the department to convey any objections from Mr. Trump to the unsealing of the documents. In his brief remarks, Mr. Garland said he decided to make a public statement because Mr. Trump had confirmed the action and because of “substantial public interest in this matter.”

If Mr. Trump agrees, the public will have more information based on the research — information that could refute the former president’s claims that the Justice Department acted without cause. If Mr. Trump fights disclosure, however, he risks giving the impression that he has something to hide.

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However, there is another important caveat. Mr Garland did not offer to unseal the department’s request for the search warrant and any accompanying affidavit from a criminal investigator explaining why there were probable grounds to believe the search would uncover evidence of a crime.

These documents would lay out in greater detail not only what criminal investigators think they know – for example, whether they believe Mr. Trump was illegally hoarding government documents, whether some of those records were classified and where in Mar-a-Lago they were stored – but how did investigators know these things.

In short, the app would make it clear whether the Justice Department is reaching out to one or more confidential Trump camp sources that provide information.

It is not surprising that the Ministry of Justice does not offer to unseal this particularly sensitive material because it would be careful to protect its sources. But at the same time, that’s what Mr. Trump’s supporters are most eager to learn.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is a close Trump ally, released a statement Thursday afternoon saying he wanted to know the basis of the search – alluding to “the deep distrust of the FBI and the DOJ” among the former president’s supporters. .

Mr. Graham noted that in the Russia investigation, surveillance warrants obtained against an adviser to Mr. Trump were later found to be unwarranted. According to a report by the inspector general, the FBI did not inform the court of evidence that undermined its assertion that the adviser was most likely a Russian agent.

“What I’m looking for is the predicate of the search,” Graham said. “Was the information provided to the judge sufficient and necessary to authorize a search of the former president’s home within 90 days of the midterm election? I urge, in fact urge, the DOJ and FBI to put their cards on the table to explain why this course of action was necessary. Until this is done, suspicions will continue to mount.

By that standard, Mr. Graham and other Trump allies are unlikely to be happy with the documents Mr. Garland proposes to make public. The underlying claim may be unsealed and become public one day – but this usually happens after an arraignment, for example when a defendant files a motion to suppress evidence gathered during a search arguing that he there was no sufficient legal basis.

Yet even the documents the Justice Department wants to make public could shed significant light on why investigators carried out the search — documents that, for whatever reason, Mr. Trump has so far considered to be in his interest in keeping secrets.

“Federal law, long-standing departmental rules and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details based on the research at this time,” Garland said, adding, “That’s all I can say at this time. More information will be made available as appropriate and at the appropriate time.