Many of Trump’s GOP allies have clamored for the DOJ to release its Mar-a-Lago search warrant and supporting documentation.
On Thursday, the DOJ moved to do just that, asking a court to unseal portions of the warrant.
Legal experts and political strategists say Trump’s backers bit off more than they could chew and the DOJ called their bluff.
Former President Donald Trump’s allies have spent this week clamoring for the Justice Department to release details from its search warrant for Mar-a-Lago and other supporting documentation.
Now, it looks like they might get what they asked for.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday at a news conference that the Justice Department has filed a motion to unseal portions of the warrant following Trump’s “public confirmation of the search.”
But legal experts and political strategists warn that Trump’s allies may have bitten off more than they could chew and that the maneuver could ultimately backfire on the former president and his party as this year’s midterm elections loom.
“Republican strategists have no clue how bad this is gonna be yet,” said Luis Alvarado, a longtime GOP consultant.
Right-wing reactions in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid have fallen into one of two camps.
Many of Trump’s more hardline supporters — like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — threatened to investigate the Justice Department and issued calls to “defund” the FBI.
Other Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, have asked the Justice Department to publicly talk about its investigation into Trump.
Cruz issued a tweet demanding that the department “RELEASE THE WARRANT NOW.”
“The American people deserve to see it,” Cruz wrote. “NOW.”
But Alvarado expressed skepticism toward those demands.
“They were saying it and crossing their fingers and hoping they don’t turn around and release that information immediately,” he told Insider. “Because right now, we still have primaries that are happening around the country. And they don’t want that to fill the space.”
Fox Business’ Charles Gasparino tweeted on Wednesday that Trump’s own legal team would “likely seek a court order to force the @FBI and @TheJusticeDept to turn over a physical copy of the search warrant, the affidavit, and a complete inventory of what was taken in the Mar-a-Lago raid.”
The department’s motion on Thursday rendered that option moot.
“This is a big fucking deal,” one former DOJ official, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the subject, said of the request to unseal. “Never happens. It’s unheard of.”
But the attorney general likely made an exception in this case “because of everything that’s been going on the last few days, including Trump himself and his backers crying foul, accusing the FBI of planting evidence, what have you,” the former official said.
“There is a heightened level of interest in this,” they added. “There’s a relevancy here because it really does go to the heart of the system. It’s not just people throwing stones at DOJ and FBI, they’ve gotten that for decades. This is a systemic questioning of DOJ and FBI by the former president, a fair number of elected officials, and the population.”
Garland calls Republicans’ bluff
Shortly after the department’s motion was filed Thursday, magistrate judge Bruce Reinhart ordered the DOJ to confer with Trump’s lawyers and let the court know by Friday afternoon if Trump’s team agrees with or objects to the government’s request to unseal.
In other words, the department’s motion will force Trump to put up or shut up.
“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,” Andrew Weissmann, a former FBI general counsel who later worked on the Mueller investigation, tweeted after Garland’s news conference. “Called Trump’s bluff.”
David Weinstein, a Miami criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, told Insider that even if the department’s motion to unseal is denied, Republicans could still regret pressuring the DOJ because it will inadvertently put more pressure on Trump and his lawyers to produce their copy of the search warrant.
Multiple people on Trump’s team, including his son Eric, told Gasparino that they did not get copies of the warrant or supporting documentation. But Garland debunked that claim Thursday, saying copies of both the warrant and the FBI receipt were given to Trump’s counsel.
“Trump and his lawyers have a copy of the search warrant that lists exactly what laws the FBI believes and the Department of Justice believes have been violated,” Weinstein said. “So if they wanted to show that to the world, they’re afraid to do so. And quite frankly, if it was just the presidential records, I think they’d be waving it around like an American flag.”
Gene Rossi, a longtime former federal prosecutor, also told Insider this week that he would be “shocked” if the affidavit supporting the warrant didn’t include probable cause suggesting Trump violated other laws including statutes against obstruction, insurrection, sedition, and more.
“You only get one shot at doing a search of Donald Trump’s home,” he said. “The Department of Justice is not going to blow their wad, in my view, on just looking at … the records statute.”
Ultimately, said the former DOJ official, Trump “talked himself into” the department moving to unseal its Mar-a-Lago search warrant.
“The old axiom by lawyers is that you want a client to shut the hell up,” the former official added. “That doesn’t apply to this president. So while he and his supporters are screaming about what the FBI took, the DOJ’s saying, ‘You know exactly what they took. You’ve got a piece of paper that says what they took. But you want the world to know? Fine.'”
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