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Justice Department requests to unseal Mar-a-Lago search warrant

Garland defends FBI actions in first comments since search of former President Trump's Florida residence

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland delivers a statement at the Department of Justice.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland delivers a statement at the Department of Justice. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced Thursday that the Justice Department was seeking to unseal several documents surrounding Monday’s search of Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s residence in Florida.

Garland, in his first public comments in the four days of political turbulence since federal agents searched Trump’s residence, said he approved the search personally and that the Justice Department “does not take such a decision lightly.”

The attorney general noted that the search occurred only after a federal judge signed off on a probable cause justification, and he said the DOJ would seek to make public the warrant and receipt for the property the FBI seized.

“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy. Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor,” Garland said. “Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”

Garland said he would not comment on the case beyond his statement, but he pushed back against rhetoric from some Republicans that the DOJ had acted out of political animus against the former president.

“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,” Garland said.

Additionally on Thursday, local news reported that a man tried to break into an FBI field office in Cincinnati.

Garland’s statement followed a four-day firestorm from Republicans who accused the Justice Department of political bias against the former president. Some went as far as to compare the FBI to Nazis and threaten to defund the agency.

Trump himself sparked that reaction in a lengthy statement about the search, calling it “political persecution” and comparing it to operations in “Third World Countries.”

“What is the difference between this and Watergate, where operatives broke into the Democrat National Committee? Here, in reverse, Democrats broke into the home of the 45th President of the United States,” Trump’s statement said.

Legal experts said Trump would have been provided with a copy of the warrant as well as a receipt for the items the FBI took from Mar-a-Lago, a fact confirmed by Garland on Thursday.

“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” the motion said.

The DOJ motion also noted that Trump should have an opportunity to object to unsealing the documents. The magistrate judge in the case, Bruce E. Reinhart, ordered the Justice Department and Trump’s attorneys to confer and enter a further statement by Friday afternoon about whether Trump would oppose unsealing the warrant.

Andrew Weissmann, a Justice Department veteran and former FBI general counsel, said the attorney general had “called Trump’s bluff.”

“Brilliant move by Garland: make motion to unseal everything including material Trump has already (warrant and return); so now the ball is in his court to object or consent!” Weissmann tweeted.

That was echoed by California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell. “If Donald Trump has nothing to hide he will tell the Court he supports DOJ unsealing the search warrant,” Swalwell tweeted.

Earlier in the week Republican leaders in Congress demanded answers following the search. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Justice Department “should already have provided answers to the American people and must do so immediately.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., calling for Garland to “clear your calendar” in advance of congressional oversight. And Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the likely Judiciary Committee chairman in a Republican Congress, called for Garland, along with FBI Director Christopher Wray, to testify before Congress by Friday.

Wray was appointed by Trump to a 10-year term at the head of the FBI in 2017.

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