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News Analysis: Donald Trump has portrayed the search of his Mar-a-Lago club and estate as baseless and political. Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland wants to make the search warrant public. nyti.ms/3JWyAXy
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Former President Donald J. Trump has portrayed the search of his residence as baseless and political. Now, the attorney general wants to make the search warrant public.
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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said he personally approved of the decision to execute the warrant used in Monday’s F.B.I. search of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lago.CreditCredit…Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Thursday called former President Donald J. Trump’s bluff.
Ever since the F.B.I. executed a search warrant at Mr. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, Mr. Trump and his supporters have been portraying the search as baseless and politically motivated.
The investigation centers on whether Mr. Trump improperly took sensitive materials with him from the White House and then failed to return all of them — including classified documents — when the National Archives and the Justice Department demanded that he do so.
But Mr. Trump has chosen to keep secret the warrant and the list of what the F.B.I. took from his Mar-a-Lago club and estate — documents that very likely lay out what law or laws investigators believe may have been broken, what evidence supporting that belief they thought they would find there and what they seized.
Mr. Garland and the investigators working on the case had made no public comments after the search, which allowed Mr. Trump and his supporters to make ever more elaborate claims of official wrongdoing and abuse of power.
But on Thursday, Mr. Garland broke his silence.
Speaking from a podium at the Justice Department, the attorney general said he had personally approved the request for a search warrant. He denounced the “unfounded attacks on the professionalism” and integrity of the F.B.I. and prosecutors.
And — most importantly — he announced that the Justice Department had filed a motion to unseal the warrant used in the search, as well as the inventory of what the F.B.I. took away, so that the government could make them public.
In so doing, the attorney general alluded to the fact that Mr. Trump was free to release the documents himself, but has chosen not to do so. “Copies of both the warrant and the F.B.I. property receipt were provided on the day of the search to the former president’s counsel, who was on site during the search,” Mr. Garland said.
Moving quickly, a federal magistrate judge — Bruce E. Reinhart, who has also come under attack by Trump supporters — set a deadline of 3 p.m. on Friday for the department to relay any objection from Mr. Trump about unsealing the documents. In his brief remarks, Mr. Garland said he decided to make a public statement because Mr. Trump had confirmed the action and because of the “substantial public interest in this matter.”
If Mr. Trump acquiesces, the public will have more information about the basis for the search — information that could rebut the former president’s claims that the Justice Department acted without cause. If Mr. Trump fights the disclosure, however, he risks looking as though he has something to hide.
How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
Either way, there is another important caveat. Mr. Garland did not propose unsealing the department’s application for the search warrant and any accompanying affidavit from a criminal investigator explaining why there was probable cause to believe the search would uncover evidence of a crime.
Those materials would lay out in starker detail not just what criminal investigators think they know — for example, whether they believed Mr. Trump was illegally hoarding government documents, whether some of those files were classified and where at Mar-a-Lago they were being stored — but how the investigators knew those things.
In short, the application would make clear whether the Justice Department is talking to one or more confidential sources in the Trump camp who are providing information.
It is not surprising that the Justice Department is not proposing unsealing that particularly sensitive material because it would be careful to protect its sources. But at the same time, that is what Mr. Trump’s supporters are most eager to learn.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is a close Trump ally, released a statement on Thursday afternoon saying that he wanted to know the basis for the search — alluding to “the deep mistrust of the F.B.I. and D.O.J.” among the former president’s supporters.
Mr. Graham noted that in the Russia investigation, surveillance warrants obtained against an adviser to Mr. Trump were later deemed unjustified. The F.B.I. failed to tell the court about evidence that undercut its claim the adviser was most likely a Russian agent, according to an inspector general report.
“What I am looking for is the predicate for the search,” Mr. Graham said. “Was the information provided to the judge sufficient and necessary to authorize a raid on the former president’s home within 90 days of the midterm election? I am urging, actually insisting, the D.O.J. and the F.B.I. lay their cards on the table as to why this course of action was necessary. Until that is done the suspicion will continue to mount.”
By that standard, Mr. Graham and other Trump allies are unlikely to be satisfied with the documents that Mr. Garland is proposing to make public. The underlying application may be unsealed and become public someday — but that typically happens after an indictment, such as when a defendant files a motion to suppress evidence gathered in a search by arguing that it lacked a sufficient legal basis.
Still, even the documents the Justice Department wants to make public could shed significant light on why investigators carried out the search — documents that, for some reason, Mr. Trump has so far seen as in his interest to keep secret.
“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,” Mr. Garland said, adding: “This is all I can say right now. More information will be made available in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland is attempting to shift pressure to former President Trump while defending the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago this week.
Garland announced Thursday that the Justice Department had asked a federal court to unseal the contents of the search warrant authorizing the FBI raid at Trump’s Florida estate earlier this week.
In announcing the move, Garland responded to growing pressure to disclose more details while also putting the ball in the former president’s court on whether to allow more information to be released or try to block it.
“In these circumstances involving a search of the residence of a former President, the government hereby requests that the Court unseal the Notice of Filing and its attachment … absent objection by former President Trump,” the DOJ said in a court filing Thursday.
Trump’s lawyers have had a copy of the warrant since Monday but have not disclosed it to the public, though the former president has depicted the raid as a political conspiracy against him. Pushing back, Garland revealed that he personally approved of the unprecedented search.
Another added wrinkle came Thursday when The New York Times reported that Trump was subpoenaed by the DOJ concerning possible classified material at Mar-a-Lago.
Meanwhile, the DOJ is not seeking to unseal the affidavit, a detailed document that lays out the reasons why the FBI suspected criminal conduct at Mar-a-Lago, according to the Times.
Garland will likely still remain tight-lipped on the rest of the investigation, as our colleagues Rebecca Beitsch and Harper Neidig note. He refused to take questions after the press conference Thursday.
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FBI DIRECTOR Christopher Wray is treading a fine line following the bureau’s search at Mar-a-Lago this week, amid widespread backlash among Trump’s backers.
Why it matters: Former FBI Director James Comey was widely panned during the 2016 election for speaking out publicly about the agency’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
A unique position: Wray, who was appointed as FBI director by Trump in 2017 after the former president fired Comey, finds himself in the unique position of overseeing a bureau investigating his former boss, who once praised his “impeccable credentials.”
For now: Wray is focused on defending members of the bureau against threats. “Violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter who you’re upset with,” Wray said Wednesday.
RISKS OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE ESCALATING
Republican lawmakers furious over the FBI’s search of Trump’s home have threatened to investigate or defund law enforcement agencies following the Monday raid, but some warn that political violence among supporters could also escalate.
Our colleagues spoke to experts about why some of the rhetoric being used by GOP leaders claiming the raid was meant to hurt Trump politically can be dangerous.
“The GOP’s choice to turn a probe into the mishandling of classified documents into a cause célèbre is dangerous, particularly given Trump’s history of calling on private violence, mobs, and militias for support,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The issue is also on President Biden’s radar, according to The Washington Post, after he met with four prominent historians last week who compared the current political atmosphere to “pro-fascist movements before World War II.”
What we’re watching: An armed man allegedly tried to break into an FBI building in Cincinnati on Thursday morning after reportedly making threats.
While details are still emerging, the incident came one day after the FBI director spoke out to condemn threats against law enforcement in the wake of Monday’s raid.
Embattled Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is making a final pitch to hold onto her seat in what’s arguably the most high-profile House primary of the 2022 cycle.
In an ad released Thursday, Cheney defends herself against former President Trump‘s ongoing attacks and insists the 2020 presidential election was valid.
Here’s what Cheney says in the ad:
“America cannot remain free if we abandon the truth. The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious. It preys on those who love their country. It is a door Donald Trump opened to manipulate Americans to abandon their principles, to sacrifice their freedom, to justify violence, to ignore the rulings of our courts and the rule of law … This is Donald Trump’s legacy, but it cannot be the future of our nation. History has shown us over and over again how these types of poisonous lies destroy free nations.”
The race for Wyoming’s sole House seat, which Cheney has held for three terms, has become the ultimate personification of the battle between the traditional GOP base and Trump’s staunch allies.
The former president has taken particular interest in defeating Cheney because she voted for his impeachment last year after a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of President Biden‘s 2020 win.
Trump has consistently refused to accept the election outcome while Cheney has used her perch as vice chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot to chastise the former president for his actions leading up to and during the riot.
Cheney was previously ousted from her House GOP leadership post over her rift with Trump and her refusal to keep quiet about what she sees as the former president’s role in the Jan. 6 attack.
“Like many candidates across this country, my opponents in Wyoming have said that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen. No one who understands our nation’s laws, no one with an honest, honorable, genuine commitment to our Constitution would say that. It is a cancer that threatens our great Republic,” Cheney says in her latest ad.
Cheney, 56, is trailing Trump-backed rival Harriet Hageman by double digits in polling. Trump and more than 100 House GOP members have endorsed Hageman ahead of the Tuesday primary.
Given the uphill climb she faces in the primary, speculation has run rampant that Cheney may be mulling a run for president in 2024. And Thursday’s ad would do little to discourage it.
“No matter how long we must fight, this is a battle we will win. Millions of Americans across our nation — Republicans, Democrats, Independents — stand united in the cause of freedom. We are stronger, more dedicated, and more determined than those trying to destroy our Republic,” she said.
INFLATION is starting to cool, the job market is strong and Congress just passed two major bills addressing the economy — but is it enough for Democrats to hold off Republicans?
The White House thinks so.
The administration is starting to shift its message to attempt to tie Republicans to special interest groups, framing the party as pursuing an “extreme MAGA agenda” that will hurt families’ pocketbooks.
Our colleague Morgan Chalfant writes that a large part of the message unveiled Thursday focuses on how every Senate Republican voted against the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping bill on tax, climate and health care reforms.
Still, prominent economic policy consultant Tony Fratto told our colleague Amie Parnes that the White House should focus solely on jobs instead of inflation because “people are upset about it, so if you can’t win the argument, change the subject.”
SEARCHING FOR CREDIT
The Inflation Reduction Act must still pass the House and get the president’s signature before it becomes law, but already Democrats are jockeying for credit over the long-awaited legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) credited centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) while speaking back in his district this week.
“[Manchin] said ‘We have to do this in secret, you and I only,’ and we did,” Schumer said during an event in New York this week. “Under Joe Manchin’s request, which I honored, the White House didn’t know any of the details until everybody else did.”
However: As The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Alex Gangitano reported, Biden officials have been touting the White House’s behind-the-scenes efforts to broker a deal, with Biden himself working the phones over the weekend. The officials credited the president with the vision for the package and patience.
‘Two more seats’: During a radio interview with SiriusXM Urban View talk radio show host Joe Madison on Thursday, Schumer noted Manchin’s role in securing the reconciliation agreement while emphasizing that Democrats would have an easier time passing priority legislation if they could net several more Senate seats.
“If I got two or three more seats, the bill we did now, as good as it is, would be nothing … We would get the kind of things that, you know, Joe Manchin was against,” he said.
Schumer added that with “two more seats” he also could get the Democrats’ voting rights legislation through the chamber.
The House will be back in session Friday to pass Democrats’ $740 billion climate, health care and tax bill, sending it to President Biden‘s desk. But don’t expect everyone to make the brief trip back to D.C. for the vote.
At least 167 House members — nearly 40 percent of the chamber — have active “proxy letters” on file that will allow other members to vote for them even if they don’t come back to the District for the vote, House Clerk records show.
Nearly six dozen of them were filed just this week alone, in the days since the Senate approved the Inflation Reduction Act that it spent months trying to hash out. The Senate passed the bill on Sunday, sending it back to the House, where it’s expected to win final approval from the Democratic majority.
Members from both sides of the aisle have granted voting authority to fellow House members, copies of the letters show.
The remote House floor voting process was adopted in May 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly extended the proxy voting period on the advice of the House physician.
It’s been used countless times in the two years since it was implemented, but it hasn’t been without controversy.
Republican leaders, who raised an unsuccessful legal challenge to the rule, have vowed to permanently end the process if the GOP takes control of the chamber.
📺 MEDIA MOVE
Fox News anchor Shannon Bream will take the reins of “Fox News Sunday,” one of the networks most-watched programs, replacing longtime anchor Chris Wallace.
If you want to see the Washington Commanders play on home turf before tickets get expensive, you’re in luck!
The Commanders will play the Carolina Panthers this Saturday at FedEx Field in their first preseason game. Tickets start at $30.