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Attorney General Garland has moved to unseal Trump Mar-a-Lago warrant

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Attorney General Merrick Garland has broken his silence about the unprecedented search of former President Trump's property in Florida this week. In careful public remarks, Garland said he personally signed off on the warrant application, and he has asked a court to unseal the warrant so the public can see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERRICK GARLAND: Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of a Justice Department and of our democracy.

CHANG: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been listening in, and she is here with us now to talk more about it. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so I know that Garland generally likes to speak through the work of the Justice Department, but today he made a choice - right? - to make a personal, direct public statement in this case. Why do you think that is?

JOHNSON: Well, there's been a lot of speculation about exactly why the FBI searched former President Donald Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have been demanding answers about the search and blasting the Justice Department without providing any evidence. So Garland this afternoon asked the court in Florida to unseal the search warrant and the property receipt. That's a kind of inventory the FBI gave Trump's lawyer. Garland pointed out that a search warrant was a big step for the DOJ, perhaps referring to what our sources have described as a runaround from Trump in turning over the materials that should have gone to the National Archives. Here's Garland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARLAND: The department does not take such a decision lightly. 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.

JOHNSON: And, of course, Ailsa, Trump could have made this information public on his own, but he didn't want to. He preferred to issue a statement accusing the administration of weaponizing the Justice Department against him, again, with no evidence.

CHANG: OK. Well, as we mentioned, Garland said he signed off on the warrant application. A judge signed off on the warrant. How soon, Carrie, do you think the documents might be released?

JOHNSON: Well, the court filing by the DOJ this afternoon cites intense public interest in the case and the fact that the former president is the one who confirmed the search in the first place. But it's giving Trump a chance to object to the release of these documents. There's no word from Trump yet, so it's not clear how quickly the court will act on this. I'll add that several media organizations have gone to court to unseal these materials, too. And we don't know exactly what the FBI was looking for, only that it relates to what the National Archives has called the discovery of some highly classified documents Trump took to Mar-a-Lago. Archives got 15 boxes back, but the FBI on Monday took a bunch more boxes.

CHANG: OK. And I remember, like, when Garland became attorney general, he was accused by Democrats for not moving quickly enough to investigate Trump's inner circle after the Capitol riot. And now, I mean, he's getting criticism from Republicans who want to defend Trump. So do you have any insight as to how Garland might be thinking about all these different pressures on him?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This attorney general wants to play it right down the middle of the lane. He says all the time that he wants to follow the facts and the law, not to undermine any investigations, but also not to smear anyone who's not charged with a crime. Here's more of what Garland said today about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARLAND: 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. All Americans are entitled to the evenhanded application of the law, to due process of the law and to the presumption of innocence.

CHANG: Well, I want to talk about public perception of the Justice Department because this week, Chris Wray, the FBI director, raised concerns about an increase in threats against FBI agents. And there was even an incident in Ohio today at an FBI office there. What did Garland have to say about all these threats?

JOHNSON: The attorney general didn't directly reference the incident in Cincinnati, but he spoke forcefully on behalf of the FBI and his prosecutors this afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARLAND: 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. Every day, they protect the American people.

JOHNSON: And the attorney general says he's honored to work alongside those people as this process involving Trump and the search at Mar-a-Lago plays out over time.

CHANG: That is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.