On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Merrick Garland made his first public comments since FBI agents raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida the previous morning.
Garland said the government had filed a motion to unseal the warrant authorizing Monday’s search, which Trump has strongly criticized as a partisan attack, citing “the substantial public interest in this matter.”
Federal prosecutors asked for the warrant to be issued on Thursday, stating that it should be granted “absent objection by former President Trump,” though it was unclear how quickly the judge in the case may release the warrant.
Contrary to what Trump’s son Eric has said in the past, Garland said that Trump’s attorney was given a copy of the warrant and a list of what was taken from Mar-a-Lago by the agents on Monday.
In his four-minute speech, Garland said nothing about the specifics of law enforcement’s work or the larger investigation into Trump.
“Keeping to the letter of the law is a cornerstone of the Justice Department’s operations and of our democratic system as a whole. To maintain the rule of law, the law must be enforced fairly and without exception “This is what he had to say, he explained. That’s exactly what the Justice Department is doing while I’m in charge.
He claimed that a federal court issued the search warrant because there was sufficient evidence to support the warrant’s issuance.
On Thursday, Garland said he “personally approved” the unprecedented decision to seek a search warrant against a former president, but he emphasized that “the department does not take such a decision lightly.”
“It is common practice to look for less invasive means as an alternative to a search and to limit the scope of any search that is undertaken,” he said.
Given the department’s longstanding policy of not commenting on active investigations so as not to unduly harm those caught in law enforcement’s wake before charges are brought (if at all), Garland admitted there was still much he could not say.
The search of Trump Tower was a major development in one of Trump’s many pending legal cases. (He claims innocence in every instance.)
Garland argued that everyone has the right to be treated fairly under the law, to receive due process, and to be presumed innocent. “We have to do a lot of our business behind closed doors. We take such measures to safeguard our investigations and the fundamental rights of all Americans.”
Aiming to “address recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors,” he concluded that he would now speak.
Republicans and others voiced strong opposition to the search of Mar-a-Lago, claiming that there was insufficient justification for the operation.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on Wednesday, “The American people want transparency when you are raiding the home of a former president.” “The former president’s home is being raided by the FBI. The people of the United States of America should be told the truth about this.”
On Wednesday, at a different event, FBI Director Christopher Wray said of the search, “I’m sure you can appreciate that’s not something I can talk about.”
Again, Trump and his allies have tried to portray the federal investigation as a partisan witch hunt. Despite Trump’s claims that the search was “not necessary or appropriate,” he has remained silent on the subject of the warrant that allowed for the search.
As the first public confirmation of a search that Garland said officials had worked to keep out of view, Trump said in a statement on Monday night, “These are dark times for our Nation…. It is 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.”
On the other hand, he disagreed with the criticism of the police.
Every single day, the men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department serve our country with dedication and patriotism, as Garland put it. When their honor was being unfairly questioned, he “would not sit by silently.”
They safeguard our civil rights while protecting us from violent crime and terrorism, Garland said. “They put their own lives in danger and make tremendous personal sacrifices to do this. It is a privilege to serve beside them.”
Garland finally said, “This is all I can say right now,” cutting off any further questions from the assembled journalists. The right time and means will be found to release additional details.
On Thursday, the Justice Department filed a motion in federal court in Florida to unseal the search warrant, citing “the public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances.”
In its filing, the government confirms the warrant was signed last Friday and asks for the redacted inventory of items taken from Mar-a-Lago to be unsealed. In an affidavit supporting the warrant, law enforcement would have provided a narrative explanation for why they wanted to search Trump’s home; however, prosecutors did not seek to release any such affidavit.
Attorneys for the government wrote that Trump “should have the opportunity to respond to this Motion and lodge objections, including with regard to any ‘legitimate privacy interests’ or the potential for other ‘injury’ if these materials are made public.”
According to the case files, all responses must be filed with the court by August 25.
A little over an hour after Garland’s speech, the judge in the case ordered the prosecutors to meet with Trump’s attorneys and report back by Friday at 3 p.m. ET on whether Trump opposes the motion to unseal the warrant.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Juan Gonzalez and the head of the Department of Justice’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section Jay Bratt both approved the request to unseal the document.
Given the importance of the NSD to the investigation, the head of the DOJ’s NSD, Matt Olsen, was also present in the room for Garland’s remarks Thursday.
The White House claimed they heard about Garland’s comments from the media, as they did with Monday’s search.
This report was produced with assistance from Jack Date, Katherine Faulders, Isabella Murray, Molly Nagle, and John Santucci of ABC News.
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