Justice Department moves to unseal warrant in Trump Search

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Thursday decided to release the warrant used in the FBI’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence — and said he personally approved the search after “less intrusive” attempts to retrieve documents taken from Mr. Trump’s White House have failed.

In a two-minute clipped statement to reporters at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, Mr. Garland, who had previously declined to comment on the search, said he decided to make a public statement because Mr. Trump had confirmed the action. The Attorney General also cited the “surrounding circumstances” of the case and the “substantial public interest in this matter”.

Minutes before Mr. Garland took the podium, a senior official from the Justice Department’s National Security Division filed a motion to unseal the warrant – along with an inventory of items recovered from the search – redacted to prevent disclosure of national security information.

It’s unclear how quickly the warrant and other documents could be made public or whether Mr. Trump will object.

The former president’s lawyers have the opportunity to challenge the petition. Its legal team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Judge Bruce Reinhart, the judge handling the case, issued an order requiring the Justice Department to serve a copy of its motion on Mr. Trump’s lawyers. Mr. Trump and his legal team have until 3 p.m. tomorrow to oppose the motion.

Mr. Garland’s decision to make a public statement came at an extraordinary time in the Justice Department’s 152-year history, as the sprawling investigation into a former president who remains a powerful political force gathers momentum. magnitude. Prosecutors from a range of divisions and regional offices across the ministry are taking new action, seemingly daily.

Mr Garland, a terse former judge, had come under increasing pressure this week to provide more public information about why the Justice Department decided a search was necessary and who approved it – or otherwise. less to offer an explanation of the legal proceedings undertaken by his subordinates.

But he seemed, even on Thursday, to do so with great reluctance. And he reiterated his oft-stated commitment to conducting the investigation within the confines of the justice system rather than in public, in an effort to protect the rights of the targets of the investigation and its integrity.

“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the fundamental tenet of the Justice Department and our democracy,” said Mr. Garland, who declined to answer shouted questions from reporters as he slowly left the courtroom. seventh floor briefing.

“Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of public view,” added the attorney general. “We are doing this to protect everyone’s constitutional rights.”

His decision is less notable for its legal significance than for its political significance: By giving Mr. Trump the right to oppose the motion in court, Mr. Garland’s team aims to protect the Justice Department from accusations that he unilaterally leaked documents intended to embarrass him.

Mr. Garland will also be able to tell his critics that he publicly addressed the FBI raid and showed the public his legal rationale for the action, though the released documents will likely contain minimal new details and be riddled with redactions.

The department also does not plan to release affidavits — which contain significantly more information about Mr. Trump’s behavior and evidence presented by others — that were used to obtain the warrant, officials said Thursday.

Mr. Garland did not directly address an episode earlier Thursday, in which a man in a bulletproof vest tried to break into an FBI office outside Cincinnati. Justice Department officials said at the time that Mr Garland did not have enough information to determine his motive. After fleeing the premises of the FBI office, the man, who had a gun, was killed Thursday evening in a standoff with law enforcement, according to a spokesperson for the Ohio State Highway patrol. Investigators are investigating whether he had ties to extremist groups, including one that participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the matter.

Mr. Garland, a former mid-level prosecutor, went out of his way to counter claims by Mr. Trump and his supporters that agents in the office or Justice Department lawyers were politically motivated or behaved inappropriately when requesting and executing the search warrant. .

“I will not remain silent when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Mr. Garland said.

He added: “The men and women of the FBI and the Department of Justice are dedicated and patriotic public servants. Every day, they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism, and other threats to their security while protecting our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and at their own risk. I am honored to work alongside them. »

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said in an internal email earlier today that he would adjust the office’s “security posture” if necessary. He also defended the work of the agents involved in the Trump case.

“We don’t cut corners,” he wrote. “We are not playing favourites.”

Aides and allies of Mr Trump have questioned why a search was necessary, saying the former president was cooperating with demands for the return of documents he took with him when he left the White House. Several prominent Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, had called on Mr. Garland to provide an explanation for his actions.

The FBI raid was undertaken after federal prosecutors subpoenaed documents that were allegedly improperly removed from the White House and stored in a room in Mar-a-Lago without proper security measures, according to people close to them. folder. Some of them are supposed to be classified.

Mr. Garland did not say how or when it became clear to his team that 15 boxes of materials that Mr. Trump returned this year were insufficient. But he expressed his decision to endorse the mandate as a necessity.

“The department does not take such a decision lightly,” Garland said. “Wherever possible, it is common practice to seek less intrusive means as an alternative to a search and to narrowly limit any search undertaken.”

The attorney general’s public reticence about the status of the various investigations involving Mr. Trump and his supporters is rooted in the burning experiences of the department’s recent past. Mr. Garland and his entourage are keen to avoid the approach taken by James B. Comey, the former FBI director, whose public statements about the investigations into Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign were considered a political and legal disaster. .

The Justice Department had not previously provided any information on the precise nature of the material it was seeking to recover, but it said it was classified information.

Mar-a-Lago’s research has added an explosive dimension to the series of investigations into Mr Trump, including separate Justice Department investigations into his efforts to stay in office despite losing the 2020 election.

A senior White House official said President Biden and his key staffers were not told in advance of the attorney general’s remarks and were made aware of them by the news.

Adam Goldman and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.

Elna M. Lemons