The US Justice Department has asked a court to unseal the warrant the FBI received before searching the Florida estate of ex-president Donald Trump, Attorney General Merrick Garland said yesterday, acknowledging the extraordinary public interest in the case.
The request was striking because such documents traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation. But the Justice Department appeared to recognise that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter attacks from the former president and his allies, and Garland felt it wise to respond to the widespread demands for details about what the led to the FBI action.
“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favour of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida yesterday seeking the unsealing.
Garland also cited the fact that Trump himself had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, and the attorney general said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions.
Garland further said he personally approved the search warrant, which was part of a Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this year.
It was not immediately clear when, or if, the unsealing request might be granted or when the documents could be released. Trump will also have a chance to object. The attorney general condemned verbal attacks on FBI and Justice Department personnel over the search.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” he said, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants”.
Meanwhile, a mole at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is believed to have tipped off the FBI, leading to the raid on the former president’s home.
The informant reportedly told agents there may be classified material with national security implications there, and suggested exactly where it was located at the sprawling Florida resort.
When agents swooped on Monday they asked for a plan of the site and went to an office, a bedroom, and a storage room that was also used for golf shoes and clothes, according to one of Mr Trump’s lawyers.
Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s former chief of staff, said: “This would be someone who was handling things day to day, who knew where documents were, so it would be somebody very close inside to the president. My guess is there’s probably six or eight people who had that kind of information.”
Amid Republican fury at the FBI over the raid, an armed man wearing body armour attacked the agency’s building in Cincinnati, Ohio.
He reportedly had an assault rifle and fired a nail gun into the building before fleeing. Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, called threats against the agency “deplorable and dangerous”.
“Violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter who you’re upset with,” he said.
It also emerged that when four Justice Department officials visited Mar-a-Lago in June, they already had a subpoena and took away sensitive documents at that time.
That meeting was cordial and Mr Trump told the investigators he appreciated the job they were doing and they could have anything they needed.
A few days later the department’s counter-intelligence chief, Jay Bratt, wrote to Mr Trump’s lawyers requesting a better lock on the door where remaining White House documents were stored.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Mr Bratt also asked that “all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice”.
The lock was fitted the next day, but at some point after that the informant was said to have contacted the FBI with specific information.
It led to them getting a warrant from Florida judge Bruce Reinhardt, which involved showing “probable cause” that a crime may have been committed under the Presidential Records Act.
There were said to have been weeks of high-level FBI and Justice Department deliberations about going ahead with a raid against a former president.
It was eventually timed to take place while Mr Trump was away, and agents did not wear clothing marked “FBI” in an attempt to keep a low profile.
Lindsey Halligan, a lawyer for Mr Trump who was at Mar-a-Lago during the raid, said: “There were about 30 to 40 FBI agents that I saw, five of which were wearing suits, the rest were in cargo pants, masks and gloves. They basically had unfettered access to the property. They refused to talk to me.”
She said it was a “huge surprise” and “complete overkill” and “if they needed documents they could have asked”.
Ms Halligan was required to wait outside, near the ballroom, while the search took place.
She spoke by phone with Mr Trump, who she said was shocked and thought he had already complied with what the Justice Department wanted.
Christina Bobb, another lawyer for Mr Trump who was there, said she had asked to see the warrant, and was shown it. The warrant has not been made public, and the Justice Department had declined to comment before Garland’s press conference yesterday.
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