WASHINGTON – It is now largely up to former President Donald Trump to decide whether the public will see the Justice Department’s reasons for searching his Florida home.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that the department has filed a motion to open the search warrant and property receipt of a search that FBI agents conducted Monday in Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla.
The search was part of an investigation into allegations that Trump removed classified White House documents when he left office.
The movement: The Justice Department has asked a judge to open the search warrant, attachments and property receipt, which is an inventory of property seized during the search.
The case of unsealing: The motion argues that the public’s “clear and powerful interest in understanding what happened” weighs heavily in favor of disclosing the documents.
Trump could block: The motion opens the door for Trump to block the documents from being made public. The Justice Department argues that the records should be made public “in the absence of objections from the former president.”
An opportunity to respond: Trump “should be given the opportunity to respond to this motion and object, including with respect to any ‘legitimate privacy interests’ or the potential for other ‘harm’ if these materials become public,” the motion says.
What is going to happen
Trump and his lawyers have until 3 p.m. Friday to decide whether or not to oppose the Justice Department’s request to unseal the search warrant and related materials.
The decision to disclose ultimately belongs to Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart, but Trump would complicate matters.
why does it matter
In the absence of an open warrant or any official public explanation for the search, Trump supporters have called for “defunding the FBI.” Some Republican lawmakers have likened the FBI’s actions to undemocratic uses of power in a “banana republic,” a misuse of the term.
The opening of the records would show the public what the FBI was looking for and what property was seized during the search. And it’s important to note that the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, was appointed by Trump while he was president.
what they are saying
“I personally approved of the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter,” Garland said, after making the required “probable cause” determination that a crime had been committed.
“I will not stay silent when your integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of the threats against the FBI after the search. “The men and women of the FBI and Department of Justice are dedicated and patriotic public servants. Every day, they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism, and other threats to their safety, while protecting our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves. I am honored to work alongside them.”
Although Trump could try to keep the documents sealed, “the judge has the final say,” said Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney. “If Trump objects, it’s going to be a really hard line to walk.”
“Trump’s objection would certainly slow things down, but the judge has the final say,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security matters. “From what I understand, the information that is subject to the DOJ motion is largely what Trump and his attorneys already possess. That means any effort to delay or oppose the release would raise questions about why Trump is hiding the content.”
What are Trump’s other legal problems?
Since 2021, Trump has faced legal scrutiny in at least six separate federal and state investigations that are criminal and civil in nature. At least two investigations involve the 2020 election.
A bipartisan House committee is investigating Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill. The New York Attorney General is investigating the business practices of the Trump Organization. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has also been investigating the Trump Organization. And a federal investigation into presidential records is ongoing and appears to have prompted the FBI’s search of his Florida property.
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Contributors: Ella Lee, Josh Meyer
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump Could Stop or Grant Release of FBI Mar-a-Lago Search Warrant