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Upping the ante: Judge asked to unseal Trump search warrant

Politics

The US Justice Department has asked a judge to make public the warrant that authorised an FBI search of Donald Trump’s Florida home, after the former president attacked the incident as an act of political retribution.

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The request means the public could learn more about what investigators were looking for at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on Monday during the unprecedented search of a former president’s home.

The search was part of an investigation into whether Trump illegally removed records from the White House as he left office, some of which the Justice Department believes are classified.

Attorney-General Merrick Garland, the country’s top law enforcement officer, told a news conference he had personally approved the decision to order the search.

The department also seeks to make public a redacted receipt of the items seized.

“The department does not take such a decision lightly,” Garland 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.”

His decision to publicly confirm the search was highly unusual.

US law enforcement officials typically do not discuss ongoing investigations to protect people’s rights. In this case, Trump himself announced the search in a Monday night statement.

Garland said the Justice Department made the request “in light of the former president’s public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances and the substantial public interest in this matter”.

A source familiar with the matter said the FBI retrieved about 10 boxes from Trump’s property during the search.

It was unclear whether Trump’s legal team would object to the release of the warrant, which could shed light on the nature of the investigation.

The government has until 3pm eastern time on Friday (5am Saturday AEST) to let the court know whether Trump’s attorneys will object to unsealing the warrant.

Two of Trump’s attorneys, Evan Corcoran and John Rowley, did not respond to a request for comment.

“My attorneys and representatives were cooperating fully, and very good relationships had been established. The government could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it,” Trump said in a statement on his Truth social network.

The search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state probes Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business, including a separate investigation by the Justice Department into a failed bid by Trump’s allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting fake slates of electors.

The investigation into Trump’s removal of records started earlier this year, after the National Archives made a referral to the department.

Former archivist David Ferriero has previously said Trump returned 15 boxes to the government in January 2022. The archives later discovered some of the items were “marked as classified national security information”.

A couple of months prior to the search, FBI agents visited Trump’s property to investigate boxes in a locked storage room, according to a person familiar with the visit.

The agents and Corcoran spent a day reviewing materials, the source said.

A second source who had been briefed on the matter told Reuters the Justice Department also has surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago in its possession.

Garland’s Justice Department has faced fierce criticism and online threats since Monday’s search.

Trump supporters and some of his fellow Republicans in Washington accuse Democrats of weaponising the federal bureaucracy to target Trump.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday, an armed man suspected of trying to breach the FBI building died following an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers, an Ohio State Highway Patrol official said.

Garland condemned the threats and attacks against the FBI and Justice Department.

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” he said.

Some Democrats have criticised Garland for being overly cautious in investigating Trump over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

-Reuters

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