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AG Merrick Garland says he approved search at Mar-a-Lago, DOJ filed motion to unseal warrant

Deseret News 8/12/2022 Ashley Nash
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Washington. © Susan Walsh, Associated Press Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Washington.

Attorney General Merrick Garland revealed he “personally” approved the decision to seek the search warrant performed on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, early this week.

Garland, who spoke briefly to press Thursday evening, also announced the Department of Justice has filed a court motion in the Southern District of Florida to unseal the search warrant and the property receipt, a document that lists items seized during the search. This decision comes after Trump made the operation public and because of “substantial public interest” in the matter.

As was suggested by legal analysts, the attorney general confirmed the search warrant was authorized by a federal court “upon required finding of probable cause” (the Fourth Amendment requires reasonable grounds to conduct a search). And because it was approved by Garland, it met standards set by Attorney General William Barr in 2020. On Tuesday, the White House also disclosed that the FBI did not give President Joe Biden a heads up about the operation, indicating it happened independently.

Before conducting a search warrant, the Department of Justice seeks less intrusive means in investigations, Garland emphasized. And he clarified that the FBI gave copies of both the warrant and property receipt to Trump’s counsel, who was onsite during the search — though Trump claims agents did not allow his lawyers near.

“Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor. Under my watch that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing,” Garland said.

Monday’s operation sparked fierce debate about the legality of searching a former president’s home.

“It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024,” Trump posted on his Truth Social account.

Related

What was the FBI looking for?

Initially the FBI and Justice Department remained tight-lipped about the search, but reports emerged that the agents were looking for documents that should have been returned to the National Archives when Trump’s term ended. Some of these were classified and may have been documents related to the U.S. nuclear program, sources told The Washington Post.

Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978 records pertaining to an administration’s work belong to the public sector. This law was passed after President Richard Nixon refused to give back White House records during the Watergate scandal. Presidents or their staff — including the vice president — cannot keep records, such as memos and meeting notes, created during their time in office. The act specifies that if an administration wants to destroy records, it must first get the approval of the U.S. archivist, who manages the National Archives.

It’s not the first time the FBI has looked for documents in Trump’s estate. In February, FBI agents retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago that should have been returned to federal custody. This search placed Trump under a federal investigation for allegedly mishandling classified documents.

‘Release the documents now!’

Initially, the Deseret News considered a few scenarios of arguments Trump’s lawyers could use in his defense. These included claiming documents at Mar-a-Lago fell under executive privilege or were considered private while the National Archives classified them as belonging to the public sector. Neither of these arguments would hold up if the FBI found classified material such as information on America’s nuclear program.

Trump has claimed the search was “prosecutorial misconduct,” that federal agents broke a lock the FBI and DOJ had asked him to install and that his staff was cooperative. He even hinted the FBI may have planted evidence against him.

The warrant and property receipt will reveal more about the search. On this Trump agrees with Garland. “Release the Documents Now!”, he posted on Truth Social. However, he has until 3 p.m. ET to object the motion to unseal these documents.

If incriminating documents are found in Trump’s home, and if the investigation leads to a conviction, the former president would be prevented from ever holding office again. U.S. law states that if someone is charged with obstructing or mishandling federal documents, that person “shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”

This story has been updated with new reporting. It was first published Aug. 10 at 5:09 p.m. EDT.

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