Garland defends Trump home search, moves to make details public

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland has said the Department of Justice (DoJ) has asked a federal judge to unseal the court-approved warrant used to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence earlier this week.

At a brief news conference on Thursday, Garland defended the FBI search at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate on Monday, saying he had personally approved it.

“The Department filed the motion to make public the warrant and receipt in light of the former president’s public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances and the substantial public interest in this matter,” Garland told reporters.

Trump, who has a copy of the search warrant but has declined so far to reveal its contents, said late on Thursday he would not oppose the unsealing of the warrant.

He continued to assail the FBI search as “unAmerican, unwarranted and unnecessary”.

“Release the documents now!” he wrote, repeating his claim  the search was an “unprecedented political weaponization of law enforcement.”

‘Called Trump’s bluff’

Thomas Gift, director of the Center on US politics at University College London, told Al Jazeera releasing the warrant was not Trump’s first choice, pointing to the fact that Trump could have publicly disclosed its contents “at any time” since the search occurred.

“Trump chose not to do that,” he said. “He’s only now agreeing because the attorney general essentially called Trump’s bluff and daring him to block the public from seeing the warrant,” Gift added.

“Out of the available options now, my sense is that Trump really believes that releasing the warrant is the best course because who he’s really playing to here is his base – and to same extent his base, I don’t think will really care what the facts are, they’d only care about about how Trump spins the facts.”

Donald Trump departs Trump Tower two days after FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach home, in New York City on August 10, 2022 [David ‘Dee’ Delgado/Reuters]

Garland, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, did not provide details about the nature of the investigation that led to the search of Mar-a-Lago.

Several US media outlets earlier cited unidentified sources as saying that the inquiry was looking into possible mishandling of classified material, and on Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the agents were looking for documents related to nuclear weapons.

The Post said it was not clear whether such documents had been found.

Some 10 boxes of material were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago, the Reuters news agency said, citing an unnamed source.

It is unclear at this point how much information would be included in the documents, if made public, or if they would encompass an FBI affidavit that would presumably lay out a detailed factual basis for the search. The department specifically requested the unsealing of the warrant as well as a property receipt listing the items that were seized, along with two unspecified attachments.

Republican fury

The search at Trump’s home sparked fury among his supporters, with some Republican legislators promising to investigate the DoJ, including Garland, if they win power in the upcoming midterm elections.

Others threatened to defund the FBI, accusing the law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation of targeting Trump for political reasons.

But Garland responded to what he called “unfounded attacks” against DoJ and FBI agents and prosecutors.

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked. The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants … I am honoured to work alongside them,” he said.

Garland’s statement came amid reports of growing threats of violence and even talk of a “civil war” by Trump supporters online after the search.

Republicans had rallied around Trump and come to his defence after the search. “If the Democrats wanted to deal a death blow to Trump, using the FBI as a tool for political gain was not the way to do it,” Congresswoman Lauren Boebert wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Seeing the FBI raid Mar-a-Lago has had the opposite effect. The Republican Party hasn’t been this unified in a long time!”

Trump announced late on Monday on his social media channel that a “large number” of FBI agents had entered Mar-a-Lago in an “unannounced raid”, claiming that they put the estate “under siege” and “broke into” his safe.

The former president described the search as part of a Democrat-led push to prevent him from running for president again in 2024 and called it “political persecution”.

The White House has repeatedly said it did not have prior knowledge of the search and it does not interfere in DoJ-led investigations.

The unprecedented search marks a significant escalation in one of the many investigations Trump is facing in connection with his time as president and as a businessman.

The investigation into the removal of records began earlier this year.

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