After nearly three days of silence and continued questions, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice has filed a motion to unseal documents explaining the legal reasoning behind the raid on Mar-a-Lago Monday night, with Garland revealing he personally approved the search of former President Donald Trump’s oceanside estate in Florida and saying he and the DOJ did not take the decision lightly.
“The department filed the motion to make public the warrant and receipt in light of the former president's public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances and the substantial public interest in this matter,” Garland said at an afternoon press conference.
The evidence of a potential crime—as well as which specific crimes may have been committed—will be listed on the documents in question, which are the search warrant and a redacted version of the “Property Receipt,” which lists the items that were seized and would offer additional clues about what sensitive government documents Trump may have improperly taken with him when he left the White House last year.
In the DOJ’s court filing Thursday afternoon, the DOJ leaves open the possibility that Trump and his legal team could still request that the search warrant remain sealed.
The motion shed more light on the operation.
The DOJ received approval for the search from the federal judge in West Palm Beach last Friday, Aug. 5. That means the FBI team had all weekend to prepare for the secret mission on Monday morning. It also states that Trump’s attorney was immediately notified when the search began, and that his legal team was handed a copy of the warrant and related documents.
If Trump’s attorneys agree to release the explosive documents, it will then be up to Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart to unseal the records in federal court, which could happen immediately thereafter. He has given the DOJ until Friday at 3 p.m. to discuss the matter with Trump's legal team. If Trump's side opts against transparency, the former president's lawyers will have two weeks to respond.
It’s been three days, and up until now, what scant details the public has about the FBI search have come from Trump himself, who was furious about the operation.
Early Monday morning, FBI agents arrived at Trump’s home with the warrant, which is connected to an investigation into whether the former president improperly removed highly sensitive documents from the White House when he left office.
Journalists have reported sparse additional details about the raid, citing a Trump attorney who was present and others who have been told about the events that day. For example, one person who was briefed on the raid told The Daily Beast that federal agents made their way through a storage basement where they’d known—for months—that Trump had stored sensitive government documents. This person described the raid as the culmination of at least two months of negotiations this summer between the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyer, Evan Corcoran.
That Baltimore lawyer recently represented former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon at his trial for the rightwing media personality’s refusal to testify before a congressional committee about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—the subject of yet another DOJ investigation that could target the former president.
But in the days since the search, even Trump’s legal team hasn’t released all the information they’ve received.
Courts usually tend to release this sort of information when the DOJ requests the documents be unsealed, particularly when there’s such a high public interest in releasing the information. However, prosecutors typically only make these records public after criminal charges are filed—or after legal matters are resolved.
At his press conference, Garland also addressed the wave of incoming threats that have followed the search on Monday.
Trump acolytes—including his attorney Christina Bobb, who was at Mar-a-Lago that day—have wondered aloud during interviews on conservative news outlets whether the FBI planted evidence of a fake crime. And as Vice has documented earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida made the rare move of actually taking down the official webpage for the magistrate judge who approved the warrant after at least one MAGA-loyal online forum hosted an open conversation about exacting revenge—including the threat of killing him.
“Let me address recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors. I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said. “The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants.”
“Every day they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism, and other threats to their safety while safe guarding our civil rights,” Garland continued. “They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves. I am honored to work alongside them.”