As Ed pointed out earlier, there’s something of a consensus on the right that AG Garland needs to demonstrate that his approach to the Trump search warrant at Mar-a-Lago is going to be consistent with the handling over other, similar cases. In particular, the handling of Hillary’s private server suggested that the DOJ was not eager to go after high ranking officials for something as pedestrian as “gross negligence.”
Of course it remains to be seen if that’s all there is to Trump case, i.e. did he just shove things in boxes without really paying attention or did he or his attorneys make an effort to conceal something they didn’t want to return. In any case, we’re learning this afternoon that AG Garland’s approach to the case was carefully considered. According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, he spent weeks deciding whether or not to approve the plan to seek a search warrant.
Attorney General Merrick Garland deliberated for weeks over whether to approve the application for a warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, people familiar with the matter said, a sign of his cautious approach that will be tested over coming months.
The decision had been the subject of weeks of meetings between senior Justice Department and FBI officials, the people said. The warrant allowed agents last Monday to seize classified information and other presidential material from Mar-a-Lago.
That’s really all we get about Garland’s decision making process in this particular case. But there are some general statements what DOJ “officials” and the “department” had in mind when making the decision.
Justice Department officials have defended the Mar-a-Lago search as a necessary step approved by Mr. Garland himself. People familiar with the Justice Department’s approach have said a primary goal of the search was to ensure the security of highly sensitive national-security documents after the Trump team didn’t relinquish them and amid concerns that the security of the material at Mar-a-Lago had been put at risk…
“He’s both extremely careful and he understands the critical role of an attorney general in these circumstances,” said former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who was Mr. Garland’s boss when they served under President Bill Clinton. “He appreciates the context in which this is occurring. I don’t think he considers politics at all, but I do think he recognizes the seriousness of actions against a former president.”…
After months of negotiations with Trump lawyers, the department decided to search Mar-a-Lago after receiving information from an FBI source as well as surveillance footage from the resort that appeared to show the additional materials weren’t securely stored, according to people familiar with the matter.
To my mind, none of this really settles the issue. Garland may have spent weeks making the decision but that doesn’t guarantee he made the right one. Knowing if he made a good decision will depend on what he was actually considering at the time. For instance, what were the documents whose security he was so worried about? What did he see on the surveillance tape that convinced him the documents weren’t secure? Whose voices was he listening to during those weeks of deliberation?
Clearly some have already decided Garland’s decision can’t possibly be justified. I don’t see it that way. I’ve been pretty consistent saying I think this could go either way, but the devil is in the details. Trump has made enough dubious decisions over the years that I definitely don’t think anyone should assume he’s a victim here. On the other hand, he really has been a victim of a kind of irresponsible resistance journalism in the past so it’s not that hard to believe this could be a case where the facts and what’s being reported don’t ultimately match very well.
Until we get the actual details, which it appears we may not get anytime soon, I don’t think it’s possible to know whether this was a good decision or a bad one.