US Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Thursday that he personally approved a decision to search former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and is asking a judge to unseal the warrant.
“The department does not take such a decision lightly,” Garland said in his first public comments about the search, as quoted by Bloomberg.
The FBI searched Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday looking for classified documents that Trump may have improperly removed from the White House.
The National Archives and Records Administration said in February it had sought records from Mar-a-Lago — including classified information — that they said were improperly removed.
Garland’s comments marked a sharp departure from the department’s usual practice of not discussing an ongoing investigation, and rebutted the torrent of criticism from Trump and his Republican allies over the unprecedented search of a former president’s home.
Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing that the original reasons for sealing the warrant materials were no longer relevant now that the search had been executed and Trump and his representatives had spoken publicly about it.
“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” the Justice Department said in the filing.
Garland pushed back on what he called unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” he said, according to Bloomberg. “The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants. Every day they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves.”
House Democrats have applauded the search as a step toward accountability for the former President.
Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence and all of Florida’s top GOP politicians, have condemned the search.
On Wednesday, Trump suggested that FBI agents might be "planting" evidence at Mar-a-Lago.
"The FBI and others from the Federal Government would not let anyone, including my lawyers, be anywhere near the areas that were rummaged and otherwise looked at during the raid on Mar-a-Lago," Trump posted on his Truth Social platform.
"Everyone was asked to leave the premises, they wanted to be left alone, without any witnesses to see what they were doing, taking or, hopefully not, 'planting,'" he added.