Who’s calling whose bluff now? Merrick Garland held a press avail — not really a presser, since the Attorney General didn’t take any questions — to read a statement declaring rather tardily that Garland had authorized the raid on Mar-a-Lago.
Garland asserted that the Department of Justice and the National Archives had tried to work with Donald Trump to retrieve the records in dispute, but that they contained highly classified material. Later leaks reported in the media claimed that those documents related to “nuclear” matters. Garland finished by insisting that the DoJ had acted without any political bias, and to prove it, they had filed a court request to unseal the warrant. Garland then offered Trump an opportunity to argue in court to keep the warrant sealed.
Overnight, Trump responded by demanding that the warrant and the underlying affidavit be released “immediately”:
Trump made his position clear in a statement posted to his social media app Truth Social, where he encouraged the “immediate release” of the documents while slamming the “political weaponization of law enforcement” days after FBI agents rummaged through Mar-a-Lago.
“Not only will I not oppose the release of documents related to the un-American, unwarranted, and unnecessary raid and break-in of my home in Palm Beach, Florida, Mar-a-Lago,” Trump said in one post.
“I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents, even though they have been drawn up by radical left Democrats and possible future political opponents, who have a strong and powerful vested interest in attacking me, much as they have done for the last 6 years.” …
“This unprecedented political weaponization of law enforcement is inappropriate and highly unethical,” the 45th president said, as he complained how the country has been brought to a “new low” related to border security, crime, the economy and other issues.
“Release the documents now!” he concluded.
As for the leaks that the material had to do with America’s nuclear secrets, Trump called that a “hoax”:
Former President Donald Trump Friday denied a report from the Washington Post that said FBI agents were looking for classified documents related to nuclear weapons, among other items, when they searched his Mar-a-Lago home earlier this week.
On his Truth Social platform, Trump said that “Nuclear weapons is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax,” referring to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russa. Trump attacked the officials involved with the search of his home, calling them “sleazy.”
NBC News has not independently verified the Post’s report, published Thursday.
Did Garland think Trump was bluffing about the warrant? Perhaps; it turns out that the FBI did leave a copy of the warrant itself at Mar-a-Lago [update: also here], along with the inventory of items retrieved, as required by federal law. Trump and his attorneys have not yet released the warrant publicly, although they could. Garland appears to think that they’re concerned about the warrant and the inventory, and that would force Trump to oppose the unsealing motion. (There may be a question too as to whether Trump can publish a warrant under seal by a court.)
But Garland may well be bluffing about the warrant, too, since it’s not the warrant that’s at question but the affidavit filed by the FBI to get it. That’s what Trump wants released, and that will have a lot more information as to what the DoJ had in mind by ordering this raid. Why publish the warrant rather than raise the pressure on the DoJ to tip its entire hand on what it wants to do with Trump and the materials from this raid?
Andrew C. McCarthy writes this morning that Garland’s only real point scored yesterday was to push Trump into making that decision. Otherwise, Garland’s statement yesterday raises even more questions about the AG and the FBI, McCarthy argues:
If a search warrant was supposedly required because of the highly classified nature of what was at issue, then why now? This supposed emergency did not just happen. It was the same emergency when the DOJ first learned about the situation in early 2022, and it was the same emergency when the DOJ met with Trump in June 2022 — and apparently didn’t demand the return of the highly classified materials. What suddenly made it an emergency now? Garland didn’t say.
On the other hand, if you believe, as I do, that what the DOJ is really interested in is making a Capitol riot case against Trump, then the timing makes perfect sense. … Do you really think the search at Trump’s Florida estate, which happened smack in the middle of all this very publicly ratcheted-up investigative activity centering on January 6, has nothing to do with January 6? When the main guy they’re trying to make the January 6 case on is Trump? Really?
McCarthy goes for the jugular in Garland’s “cheap” attempts to demagogue legitimate criticism as a threat to FBI agents:
Garland’s preening defense of Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents is touching, but misleading. We have a two-tiered justice system, which is utterly biased against Trump supporters while coddling progressives. Garland’s claptrap about how evenhanded law enforcement is on his watch is laughable. But understand: By and large, Americans who are angry about politicized federal law enforcement are not angry at line prosecutors and FBI agents. They are angry at Justice Department and FBI leadership. They are angry at Garland and FBI director Christopher Wray, who make policy, not at the men and women who investigate the cases.
Garland is lamely intimating that harsh criticism of him and the Biden administration is actually an attack on federal law enforcement writ large. It’s a cheap rhetorical trick, and it’s not fooling anyone.
Point of order: It’s fooling plenty of people on social media, who are ranting about violent rhetoric and claiming that criticism of this raid is fueling it. Oddly, the same concern was roundly ignored by Garland for Supreme Court justices whose addresses got published and when intimidation campaigns took aim at them after the Dobbs leak. Federal law prohibited those demonstrations, and yet Garland never lifted a finger to enforce it, not even after an assassin showed up on Brett Kavanaugh’s street, supposedly because of Garland’s reservations about First Amendment issues.
If Garland thought he could out-bluff Trump on this matter, he’s not playing with a full deck. Trump doesn’t have anything to lose in publicizing the material, not even politically and especially not legally. If he forces the DoJ out into the open on its ambitions regarding their investigations of Trump, it damages their ability to put a credible case, at least in the court of public opinion.
If the released documents don’t support the leaks coming out of the DoJ about what was found and what was sought, it makes Garland’s position a lot worse than the day before the raid. And if the “classified material” turns out to be a nothingburger — akin to “Russia collusion,” pee tapes, and the Steele dossier — then the DoJ and FBI will find survival in the next Republican administration difficult, to say the least. Even if the affidavit and inventory supports the raid, it doesn’t help Garland much if that’s just over a documents dispute. Hillary Clinton’s homebrew server was transmitting Top Secret and compartmented material for more than four years, and she never got raided by the FBI.
Garland had better hope that the FBI found a smoking gun about something more than a president taking too many documents with him out the door. Otherwise, this will still blow up in his face — and it’s clear that Trump’s holding the detonator.