Merrick Garland calls Trump’s bluff

Susan Walsh/AP Photo
·4 min read

Donald Trump and his allies spent days pounding the Justice Department for executing a search warrant at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, whipping supporters into a frenzy and exploiting DOJ’s characteristic secrecy by telling their own versions of events.

Some even developed a rallying cry as they attacked the department: Release the warrant!

On Thursday, the Justice Department responded to the deluge with a simple “OK.” Then, just before midnight, Trump — who has had a copy of the search warrant since Monday — announced he too supported the release, all but ensuring it is likely to be revealed as soon as Friday.

“Not only will I not oppose the release of documents related to the unAmerican, unwarranted, and unnecessary raid and break-in of my home in Palm Beach, Florida, Mar-a-Lago, I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents,” Trump said in a late-night post on his social media site, Truth Social.

The imminent release of the search warrant, as well as a redacted receipt that may provide some insight into the items seized by FBI agents during the search, could provide insight into the potential crimes the Justice Department is investigating pertaining to the handling of classified information. Late Thursday, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that among the documents sought by investigators were some pertaining to nuclear and “special access programs,” which deal with some of the government's most highly classified materials.

Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb confirmed to Fox News on Thursday night that the former president’s legal team is in possession of an inventory list from the search.

Though Trump has had the option to release the search warrant since Monday, it took a DOJ gambit to force the issue. Though the department typically closely guards search warrants, particularly in cases that have not yet yielded indictments, top DOJ officials said that the “public characterizations” of the FBI search by Trump and his attorneys effectively waived the need for secrecy. DOJ cited Bobb’s comments to the press, describing the focus of the search as “presidential records or any possibly classified material.”

“As such, the occurrence of the search and indications of the subject matter involved are already public,” DOJ officials Juan Gonzalez and Jay Bratt wrote in a motion to unseal the warrant.

That created a sense of dog-catches-the-car whiplash for Trump and his team, who were forced to quickly decide whether to permit the release of the warrant or attempt to fight it in court.

DOJ clearly recognized that dynamic in its Thursday filing and emphasized that the decision was now, essentially, Trump’s. The magistrate judge presiding over the matter, Bruce Reinhart, had asked DOJ to consult with Trump’s legal team and determine — by Friday at 3 p.m. — whether Trump supports the motion to unseal or plans to lodge any objection. Trump beat that deadline by 15 hours.

“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” the official wrote. “That said, the former President should have an opportunity to respond to this Motion and lodge objections, including with regards to any ‘legitimate privacy interests’ or the potential for other ‘injury’ if these materials are made public.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland echoed that position during a press conference, in which he noted that Trump had facilitated public discussion of the case by announcing the search in a statement.

The search warrant executed by the FBI on Monday was only described in vague generalities by Trump’s own lawyers. Prior to Garland’s press conference, Trump’s team had brushed off the idea that they should release the warrant, with one person close to Trump instead asking why the FBI had not released it themselves. They weren’t the only ones making that case. A number of prominent Trump allies and lawmakers had demanded that the department do so.

“To the AG & FBI Dir: RELEASE THE WARRANT NOW. The American people deserve to see it. NOW,” wrote Trump ally Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Twitter.

“At a minimum, Garland must resign or be impeached. The search warrant must be published. Christopher Wray must be removed. And the FBI reformed top to bottom,” wrote Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).