For the last 72 hours, since the FBI conducted a search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, the former President has spouted any number of claims about what happened and why. He’s said that Democrats led the search (they didn’t) and raised the possibility that FBI agents might have planted evidence, without providing any proof of the allegation.
On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland struck back – albeit in the limited way available to him as the head of the Justice Department still actively investigating the possibility that Trump took classified documents out of the White House and had them stored at his mansion in Florida.
Garland announced that he had asked a judge to unseal both the search warrant justifying Monday’s search as well as the receipt of what was taken.
Now, it’s worth noting that Garland didn’t go full ham on Trump and release the affidavit, which outlines all of the particulars informing the investigation.
The search warrant and receipt, according to CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, would provide a limited view of what happened at Mar-a-Lago Monday. It’s unlikely, for example, that the receipt, which details what was taken from the resort, will have page-by-page records that can be pored over for clues as to where the DOJ is headed in the investigation. But Honig noted that there is sometimes an attachment appended to the search warrant that outlines the specific charges that the department is investigating in the warrant. Which, if it is part of what Garland is asking to be unsealed, could be very interesting.
The key thing to know here is that what Garland is asking to be unsealed is exactly what Trump and his lawyers have had since Monday night. And therefore, what Trump could have released at any point between then and now.
Trump has not done that. Instead, he has hurled invectives at the FBI and the broader Department of Justice, openly speculating about how the search of his property is good news for him politically as he contemplates a third run for president in 2024.
What Garland is doing is saying to Trump: You want to play hardball? I’m here for it.
Now, again, Garland’s hands are somewhat tied here. He is overseeing an ongoing investigation into the handling of classified documents by the former President of the United States. Trump is popping off on Truth Social, his social media website. They aren’t playing by the same set of rules. Garland is bound by long-standing policy not to comment on ongoing investigations. Trump can essentially say anything he wants – true or not, backed by proof or not – with impunity.
Which means, of course, that nothing Garland said on Thursday, nor the release of the search warrant and the receipt of what was taken from Mar-a-Lago, will a) slow Trump’s insistence he is being unfairly targeted or b) change his followers’ beliefs that he is.
Garland knows that. But he also wanted to make clear to Trump that he wasn’t going to stand idly by in the face of an almost nonstop series of attacks about the DOJ and those who work for it.
Just in case anyone missed that message, Garland said this directly after he broke the news of his call to unseal the search warrant:
“Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy. Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly, without fear or favor.”