Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department asked a federal judge Thursday to unseal a search warrant that was used by FBI agents to raid the Florida home of former President Donald Trump three days earlier.
That request came after days of pressure by Republican lawmakers and other allies of Trump on the Justice Department to explain why it authorized what is believed to be the first-ever search of a former president’s residence in connection with a criminal investigation.
The Justice Department is seeking to unseal just the warrant and an inventory of items seized by the FBI during the search of Trump’s home at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.
But the department is not asking the judge to unseal the affidavit of probable cause, which would detail how authorities believe a crime was likely committed and why there would be evidence of that crime in the location targeted in the search.
However, the warrant itself is likely to list the criminal statutes related to the search.
Later Thursday, a group of media companies, including NBC News, The Washington Post and CNN, filed a motion in to unseal all court records related to warrant, including “all probable cause affidavits filed in support of the search warrant.” NBC News is a division of NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.
“The Media Intervenors are news organizations and are entitled, as members of the public, to view judicial records,” the filing said. “The tremendous public interest in these records in particular outweighs any purported interest in keeping them secret.”
The Justice Department is investigating Trump for the removal of documents from the White House, and possible violations of classified information laws because of the nature of some of those documents.
“The department filed the motion to make public the warrant and receipt in light of the former president’s public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances, and the substantial public interest in this matter,” Garland said at a surprise press conference.
The department’s motion was lodged in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, where Mar-a-Lago is located. It was signed by Jay Bratt, chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division of the Justice Department.
Garland at the press conference said, “I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter.”
“The department does not take such a decision lightly,” he said. “Where possible, it is standard practice to seek less intrusive means as an alternative to a search, and to narrowly scope any search that is undertaken.”
Garland also condemned what he called “recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors” in connection with the search and related investigation.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” he said.
Trump’s lawyer and his spokeswoman did not immediately respond when asked to comment on Garland’s announcement, and if Trump will oppose the motion to unseal.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart later Thursday ordered the Justice Department to speak with Trump’s lawyers and learn whether they will oppose the motion. Reinhart directed the Justice Department to inform him by 3 p.m. Friday of Trump’s answer.
Trump in a post on his social media site after the press conference wrote that before the raid his attorneys and representatives “were cooperating fully” with the Justice Department, and “very good relationships had been established.”
“The government could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it,” Trump wrote.
“They asked us to put an additional lock on a certain area — DONE! Everything was fine, better than that of most previous Presidents, and then, out of nowhere and with no warning, Mar-a-Lago was raided at 6:30 in the morning, by VERY large numbers of agents and even ‘safecrackers.’ They got way ahead of themselves. Crazy.”
Trump and his allies have claimed the Justice Department and Garland, who was appointed by Democratic President Joe Biden, searched Trump‘s residence to hurt the former president politically.
FBI agents seized about a dozen boxes from Mar-a-Lago, according to Trump’s lawyer.
That lawyer said agents left a copy of the search warrant, which indicated they are investigating possible violations of laws related to the Presidential Records Act and the handling of classified material.
A senior White House official told NBC News that they were unaware of what Garland would say before he took the podium at the Justice Department.
“We have had no notice that he was giving remarks and no briefing on the content of them,” the official said.
The Justice Department, and Garland, have a longstanding policy about not commenting on criminal investigations before charges are filed.