The Post quoted people familiar with the investigation as saying federal agents were looking for classified documents related to nuclear weapons, among other things, at Trump’s compound. People did not describe the documents in detail or whether they related to nuclear weapons belonging to the United States or another nation. CNN has not independently confirmed the report.
But if it turns out that Trump took such documents from the White House, it would raise the question of why a former president would need such closely guarded secrets after leaving office. The possibility of this material being held in an unsecured facility, where guests come and go and where it would be potentially vulnerable to penetration by a foreign intelligence service, would alarm government officials.
In the intensifying legal battle over the search, Trump has until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to formally signal whether he will challenge Garland’s decision.
In a statement on his Truth Social network on Thursday evening, the former president said he would not oppose the release of documents related to the “un-American, unjustified and unnecessary raid and burglary” of his home. He didn’t say exactly what documents he would be willing to see released. And the FBI search wasn’t a break-in; it was legally authorized by a warrant approved by a judge who should have found probable cause that a crime had been committed.
It’s your decision, Mr. Former President
Garland’s bet was neat.
Search warrants are usually kept under seal to protect the reputation of the person to whom they apply. But Trump himself broke the news of the search, shattering his own expectations of privacy, in order to orchestrate a political firestorm to discredit the investigation. And if Trump fought to keep the document sealed, he would look even more like he had something to hide.
“It’s a pro decision,” Phil Mudd, a former FBI and CIA official, said of Garland’s actions in “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
“It’s not the move of a pawn. It’s a move of something between a rook and a queen.”
If Trump decides to challenge the unsealing of the warrant — a step that could neutralize GOP claims that the ex-president is a target of political victimization — his attorneys would have to explain why in court. The judge handling the case, who has received death threats and social media abuse from Trump supporters, could still decide to support the Justice Department’s request, even if the former president wishes keep the information secret.
“This is what it looks like when you see the rule of law defending itself against Trump’s lies,” Nick Akerman, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, told CNN’s Erin Burnett.
“I think Donald Trump is extremely unlikely to win here.”
Garland’s piece is a clear attempt to push back the fury of Republican officials over the unprecedented search warrant at the former president’s home. Lawmakers, media pundits and Trump supporters have launched baseless claims that the United States is no more than a police state, with a Gestapo-style secret police, and has descended into tyranny.
In deciding to appear in front of Justice Department cameras, Garland did more than just call Trump’s bluff and bow to pressure from Republican leaders who demanded to know the justification for the search. He sought to protect his department and the legal process by insisting that every step of the investigation was deliberate. His brief appearance, during which he did not answer questions, was scripted to refute specific critics and the right-wing’s out-of-control conspiracy theories.
“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the fundamental tenet of the Department of Justice and of our democracy,” Garland said.
“Defending the rule of law means applying the law equally, without fear or favour,” he said, implying that even ex-presidents are not protected if there is suspicion that they have committed a crime. Garland has also spoken out forcefully in defense of the FBI and Justice Department base, calling them “dedicated and patriotic public servants,” while Trump lackeys describe the bureau as a politicized arm of Democratic chicanery.
The attorney general’s remarks, a dramatic moment in Washington, were a sign of the extraordinary sensitivity and importance of the investigation into the former president. Typically, the FBI says little about ongoing investigations unless someone is charged — a step that, if it happens, seems a long way off in this case.
An unsealed search warrant will not fully establish whether the department’s decision against Trump was justified or overbroad. But Garland’s initiative suggests firm confidence in any case the office builds against Trump. It also shows that the department, from the top, supports the decision to pursue a search – knowing of course that it would trigger an extraordinary and vehement reaction from Trump.
The idea that the whole affair is just a politically motivated conspiracy hatched by legal hacks — Trump’s essential case against her — is much harder to believe after Garland’s appearance.
Trump’s attorneys have yet to respond to the DOJ’s request.
The former president seems to have three options. He could release the search warrant and inventory of items the FBI removed from its compound; he could accede to the opening department’s request by the court; or he could oppose the communication of the mandate to the public.
In a logical universe, the latter option would seem unlikely since the ex-president shattered his own privacy when breaking news of the FBI raid in a politicized screed Monday night. And the Justice Department essentially argues in its court filing that the public’s interest in knowing what actually led to the search now outweighs Trump’s interest in keeping the details secret. The public interest is arguably even greater in light of the Post’s reporting on nuclear documentation.
“For him to come back now and say, ‘I don’t want this,’ would be very strange and bizarre,” said Vermont Law School professor Jared Carter.
But Trump is breaking the normal rules. Given his long history of exhausting all legal options to thwart accountability and the inability of judicial and political institutions to constrain him, a counter-intuitive legal strategy cannot be ruled out.
Whether the ex-president is keeping his promise not to oppose the release of documents in the case is expected to become clearer on Friday.
Republicans move the goal posts
Report on FBI search for nuclear documentation at Mar-a-Lago raises new questions for Republicans who have attacked the bureau and the Justice Department over the search with no apparent knowledge of what it was .
Even without that context, Garland’s decision earlier Thursday should defuse Republican demands that he speak publicly about the search and release the warrant. But as soon as the attorney general stopped talking, leading Republicans demanded more.
“What I’m looking for is the predicate of the search,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement.
“Was the information provided to the judge sufficient and necessary to authorize a search of the former president’s home within ninety days of the midterm elections? a course of action was needed,” added the Trump ally in South Carolina.
While Garland requested the unsealing of the search warrant, which could be accompanied by an inventory of documents from Trump’s residence, he did not seek the unsealing of affidavits intended to show probable cause that a crime had committed in support of the warrant application. . So Graham made his appeal knowing he was asking for a measure that would violate long-standing Justice Department guidelines — and could undermine any criminal case the FBI might eventually bring against the former president.
Trump himself responded to Garland’s appearance on camera with one of his signature “Witch Hunt” posts on his Truth social media network.
But the attorney general is also trying a strategy that has perpetually failed with Trump — wielding facts and legal standards to break down his wall of lies and falsehoods.
Some Trump allies have already floated another conspiracy theory that the FBI filed documents at the ex-president’s residence.
Nearly two years after Trump lost the last election, the nation faces another grueling challenge to the rule of law from the twice-impeached former president.
Facts and truth are once again the first victims.
This story has been updated with additional developments.