Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday voiced a full-throttled defense of the Justice Department and its employees as he took full responsibility for this week’s raid at former President Donald Trump’s residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
In an uncharacteristic move, Mr. Garland sought to dispel the rumors and speculation that have surrounded the Monday raid by asking a federal court to unseal the search warrant used to search Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and the property receipt of what was taken. The FBI search has sparked withering criticism from Republicans and Mr. Trump’s supporters that Democrats have weaponized the Justice Department.
“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy,” Mr. Garland said at a hastily convened press conference at the Justice Department. “Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”
Mr. Trump fiercely pushed back, saying the Justice Department sprung the raid “out of nowhere” while he and his attorneys had developed “very good relationships” with investigators.
The former president said he was following the government instructions, including adding a lock to an area where files were stored, suggesting that conversations between his attorneys and the government involved classified materials.
“My attorneys and representatives were cooperating fully, and very good relationships had been established,” Mr. Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media platform. “The government could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it. They asked us to put an additional lock on a certain — DONE!.”
“Everything was fine, better than that of most previous Presidents, and then, out of nowhere and with no warning, Mar-a-Lago was raided at 6:30 in the morning by VERY large numbers of agents, and even ‘safecrackers.’ They got way ahead of themselves. Crazy!,” he said.
The Mar-a-Lago raid fueled speculation that a mole within Mr. Trump’s inner circle may have tipped off the feds about possibly additional classified documents in storage. Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal reported that a confidential informant was working with investigators ahead of the raid.
Mr. Garland did not say whether the unsealing request could be granted — it was filed in U.S. District Court for Southern Florida in Miami — or when the search warrant and property receipt could be released.
Mr. Trump’s legal team could file an objection to the Justice Department’s motion, though it is not clear whether it will. FBI agents left copies of the property receipt and search warrant at Mr. Trump’s home, and the documents are in the possession of his legal team.
Mr. Trump and his attorneys can make the documents public but have not done so.
A federal judge on Thursday instructed the Justice Department to confer with Mr. Trump’s legal team about its request to unseal the material. The judge said he must be notified by 3 p.m. EDT Friday whether Mr. Trump opposes the release.
Attorneys for the Justice Department argued in the motion, which appeared on the court’s docket moments after Mr. Garland spoke, that “the public’s clear and powerful interest” in the case necessitates unsealing the materials.
They argue that releasing the documents “would not impair court functions” in the case.
“It’s been 72 hours since the Justice Department took the unprecedented step of raiding a former president’s home. Reports this relates to a dispute over presidential records are either a thinly veiled excuse or an abuse of power, if true,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Thursday morning before Mr. Garland’s remarks. “Given the Democrats’ history of weaponizing the Department of Justice, including the FBI, for political purposes, the American people deserve an honest explanation.”
While Mr. Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray remained mum about the unprecedented search of a former president’s residence, Mr. Trump and his allies filled the void with harsh accusations of political partisanship by the Justice Department aimed at taking down the former president ahead of a 2024 campaign.
They have pointed to the FBI’s Trump-Russia collusion probe, which was rife with misconduct, including a bureau lawyer pleading guilty to falsifying information. Republicans also have pointed to accusations that bureau officials sought to undermine the Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton investigations while executing raids of Trump associates Roger Stone and Paul Manafort.
Republicans have complained that the FBI used counterterrorism resources against parents who pressed school board officials about issues such as mask mandates and teaching critical race theory.
Despite Mr. Garland’s assurances that the search of Mr. Trump’s residence was aboveboard, Republicans reacted with sharp skepticism.
“The primary reason the attorney general and FBI are being pushed to disclose why the search was necessary is because of the deep mistrust of the FBI and DOJ when it comes to all things Trump — such as the Crossfire Hurricane and Mueller investigations,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, was also unconvinced by Mr. Garland.
“Democrats will use every tool at their disposal to ensure that they maintain control and power — including raiding the homes of their political opponents,” she said in a post on Twitter.
Mr. Wray on Wednesday declined to publicly speak about the Trump raid, citing bureau policy against talking about ongoing investigations.
Authorities are monitoring social media posts and seeing threatening posts on far-right websites, including calls for Mr. Garland to be assassinated.
“The men and women of the FBI and Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants,” he said. “Every day they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves.”
The search of Mr. Trump’s residence is said to be linked to an investigation into whether he took classified documents and other materials from the White House to his home in Florida. Under federal law, presidents are required to send top-secret materials to the National Archives and Records Administration.
The National Archives asked the Justice Department to probe the potential mishandling of classified information contained in 15 boxes sent to Mar-a-Lago.
Earlier this year, the National Archives received those 15 boxes of White House records.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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