By Tierney Sneed, Evan Perez, Hannah Rabinowitz and Zachary Cohen, CNN
In his first public statement since federal agents searched former President Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday said that the Justice Department had filed in court a request that the search warrant and property receipt from the search be unsealed.
Garland also said he “personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter.”
He noted that the department did not comment on the search on the day that it occurred. He pointed out that the search was confirmed by Trump that evening. He said that copies of the warrant and the warrant receipt were provided to the Trump lawyers who were on site during the search.
“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. “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. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”
The statement comes after days of silence from the Justice Department with regard to the search, as is the department’s normal practice for ongoing investigations. Garland stressed that some of the department’s work must happen outside of public view.
“We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations,” he said, while explaining that he would not provide more detail about the basis of the search.
Trump said in a late-night post on his Truth Social platform Thursday that he would “not oppose the release of documents,” adding, “I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”
The court had instructed the Justice Department to confer with Trump about its request to unseal certain warrant documents from the FBI Mar-a-Lago search and to tell the court by Friday 3 p.m. ET if he opposes their release. CNN reported earlier Thursday that Trump and his legal team had not yet reached a decision on how to respond to the Justice Department’s motion, according to a source familiar with their thinking.
Trump’s team had contacted outside attorneys about how to proceed, and the former President’s orbit was caught off guard by Garland’s announcement.
In a pair of posts to Truth Social following Garland’s statement, Trump continued to claim that his attorneys were “cooperating fully” and had developed “very good relationships” with federal investigators prior to Monday’s search at Mar-a-Lago.
“The government could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it,” Trump said. “Everything was fine, better than 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.'”
Justice Department asks court for documents to be released
The FBI executed a search warrant Monday at the Palm Beach, Florida, resort as part of an investigation into the handling of presidential documents, including classified documents, that may have been brought there.
The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the investigation, reported Thursday night that classified documents related to nuclear weapons were among the items that FBI agents sought when executing the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.
The people did not offer additional details to the Post about “what type of information the agents were seeking” or whether any such documents were recovered, the paper reported.
Newly filed court documents outline what the Justice Department officially moved to do Thursday.
“On August 8, 2022, the Department of Justice executed a search warrant, issued by this Court upon the requisite finding of probable cause… at the premises located at 1100 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, Florida 33480, a property of former President Donald J. Trump,” the motion reads.
“At the time the warrant was initially executed, the Department provided notice directly to former President Trump’s counsel. The Department did not make any public statements about the search, and the search apparently attracted little or no public attention as it was taking place. Later that same day, former President Trump issued a public statement acknowledging the execution of the warrant. In the days since, the search warrant and related materials have been the subject of significant interest and attention from news media organizations and other entities,” the Justice Department writes.
DOJ then argues for unsealing the search warrant, citing “the intense public interest presented by a search of a residence of a former President.”
The filing confirms that the search warrant was “signed and approved by the Court on August 5.” On Thursday, the DOJ filed “the redacted Property Receipt listing items seized pursuant to the search,” according to its unsealing motion.
“Former President Trump, through counsel, was provided copies of each of these documents on August 8, 2022, as part of the execution of the search,” the filing adds.
Earlier this year, officials from the National Archives arranged the retrieval of 15 boxes of presidential documents from Mar-a-Lago. In June, federal investigators served a grand jury subpoena and took away sensitive national security documents.
Then, according to sources, prosecutors developed evidence that there were potentially classified documents with national security implications remaining at the property.
FBI officials under attack
Republican lawmakers have lashed out at the department, calling the search politically motivated. Several lawmakers on the right have called for increased oversight of the department, and some have even suggested defunding the FBI or that agents planted evidence at the Florida estate.
Violent threats also have exploded online since the search. Posters have written things like “Garland needs to be assassinated” and “kill all feds.” The biography and contact information of a federal magistrate judge who appears to have signed the search warrant used to execute the search at Mar-a-Lago has been wiped from a Florida court’s website after he too became the target of violent threats.
In a message reviewed by CNN on Thursday moments ahead of the public statement, FBI Director Chris Wray told the bureau’s employees their “safety and security” was his “primary concern right now.”
“There has been a lot of commentary about the FBI this week questioning our work and motives,” Wray said. “Much of it is from critics and pundits on the outside who don’t know what we know and don’t see what we see. What I know — and what I see — is an organization made up of men and women who are committed to doing their jobs professionally and by the book every day; this week is no exception.”
In his public comments, Garland also called out the “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. The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated patriotic public servants,” he said. “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. I am honored to work alongside them.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.
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CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Gabby Orr and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.