The Justice Department asked to unseal the search warrant for the search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.
The department said the search “attracted little or no public attention” while it was taking place.
But Trump’s confirmation of the raid and the public interest warranted unsealing, DOJ argued.
The Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal judge to unseal the search warrant and other records related to the raid of Mar-a-Lago, the South Florida home and members-only club of former President Donald Trump.
At a press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department had taken the unusual step “in light of the former president’s public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances, and the substantial public interest in this matter.” The attorney general also confirmed that he personally signed offon the pursuit of a warrant to search Trump’s home.
Garland’s public remarks, his first since the Monday search of Mar-a-Lago, coincided with the Justice Department asking a magistrate judge in South Florida to unseal the warrant and an inventory of items seized from Trump’s property in a search that focused on the former president’s handling of government records and classified material.
The unsealing request came in the face of pressure from Trump’s Republican allies for the Justice Department to release more details about the unprecedented search of a former president’s home. In taking the remarkable step, the Justice Department defied its longstanding policy against making public statements about ongoing investigations. Garland on Thursday stressed that the circumstances around the search of Mar-a-Lago warranted an exception.
“Much of our work is, by necessity, conducted out of the public eye. We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations,” he said. “Federal law, longstanding department rules, and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time,” Garland said.
“There are, however, certain points I want you to know,” he added. “First, I personally approve the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter. Second, the department does not take such decisions lightly.
In a five-page filing, the Justice Department said asked a federal judge to unseal records related to the Mar-a-Lago search “absent objection by former President Trump.” Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart, who approved the search warrant, ordered the Justice Department to confer with Trump’s lawyers and advise by 3 pm Friday whether the former president opposed the unsealing request.
According to the department’s filing, Reinhart approved the warrant on August 5 — the Friday before the search of Mar-a-Lago. The filing indicated that the inventory of items seized from Mar-a-Lago would be at least partially “redacted,” meaning blacked-out, in the version available to the public.
The Justice Department linked its decision to unseal the records closely to Trump’s rhetoric in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago search — an FBI raid the former president excoriated as a politically-motivated “weaponization of the Justice System.” A lawyer for Trump, Christina Bobb, confirmed after the search that the FBI removed about a dozen boxes and provided a search warrant indicating that agents were investigating possible violations of the Presidential Records Act and laws concerning classified materials.
“At the time the warrant was initially executed, the Department provided notice directly to former President Trump’s counsel,” the DOJ said in the motion. It “did not make any public statements about the search, and the search apparently attracted little or no public attention as it was taking place.”
“Later that same day, former President Trump issued a public statement acknowledging the execution of the warrant,” the Justice Department continued. “In the days since, the search warrant and related materials have been the subject of significant interest and attention from news media organizations and other entities.”
In his lengthy public statement confirming the raid, Trump accused the Justice Department and the FBI of “prosecutorial misconduct” and “political persecution,” adding: “They even broke into my safe!”
His Republican allies quickly jumped to his defense, with Sen. Rick Scott saying that the federal government had gone the way of the Gestapo — the notorious secret police in Nazi Germany.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican critic of Trump, said the “unprecedented circumstances” of the Mar-a-Lago search “require unprecedented transparency and accountability from our government institutions.”
“The American people deserve to know all the facts as soon as possible, and I call on the Biden administration to release — at a minimum — the documents authorizing the FBI search,” Hogan said in a prepared statement.
Trump has allowed for secrecy to hang over the search and suggested, without evidence, that the FBI was “planting” evidence.
As the Justice Department confirmed Thursday, his representatives received a copy of the search warrant and manifest of items seized. The former president has not released those records on his own.
With the Justice Department’s unsealing request, the decision of whether to greenlight or object to the release of those records now rests solidly in the former president’s lap.
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