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Merrick Garland announces DOJ will seek to unseal search warrant of Trump's Mar-a-Lago — and he personally approved it
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered remarks on Thursday afternoon days after the FBI conducted a search warrant at President Donald Trump's Florida home at Mar-a-Lago.
"Since I became attorney general, I have made clear that the Department of Justice will speak through its court filings and its work," Garland began. "Just now the justice Department has filed a motion in the southern district of florida to unseal a search warrant and property receipt relating to a court-approved search that the FBI conducted earlier this week. that search was a premises located in Florida belonging to the former president. The department did not make any public statements on the day of the search. The former president publicly confirmed the search that evening, as is his right."
The motion to unseal the search warrant doesn't give any details, however.
President Donald Trump and his lawyers were given the search warrant, but he said that he wouldn't make it public. The judge who signed off on it, however, asked the Justice Department to consider it.
IN OTHER NEWS: QAnon believers have a novel spin on Mar-a-Lago raid
"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 said. This is a confirmation that the DOJ had been working with Trump to obtain the documents through other means prior to the search warrant. The New York Times reported Thursday morning that they had subpoenaed the information from Trump earlier this spring.
Garland revealed that he personally signed off on the act and went on to emphatically chastise those attacking the Justice Department and the FBI implying improper behavior.
"Let me address recent 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. "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. I am honored to work alongside them."
On Tuesday afternoon, far-right media outlet Real America's Voice dedicated a nearly 20-minute segment of its talk show "Water Cooler" to a novel explanation of Monday night's FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump's Palm Beach resort and home. While many Trump allies in the Republican Party and conservative media have competed to voice the most vehement denunciation of the search — Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona called to "destroy" the "democrat brown shirts known as the FBI," Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia suggested that the raid might portend "civil war" and Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini said state leaders should arrest FBI agents "upon sight" — RAV managed to find a bigger villain yet.
"I'll just tee it up this way: Jeffrey Epstein. Pedophiles. Trump. Deep State," said host David Brody, co-author of a biography of Trump, before handing the reins over to his colleague Anna Perez, host of her own RAV show, "Common Sense." Perez went on to make a lengthy case that the raid was tied to the claims of the repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory QAnon, which argues, against all evidence, that Democratic politicians, Hollywood celebrities and other elites are part of a satanic and cannibalistic child sex abuse ring that only Trump can defeat.
"This is all a part of the puzzle I'm trying to put together here, which is that the Deep State, ultimately, this past raid of Mar-a-Lago, it's a threat. It's a threat because they don't want [Trump] to expose the pedophiles that he knows about," said Perez. "That's what impeachment was about. That's what the Russia hoax was about. That's what every single — that's what Jan. 6 was about before they planted all those people from the FBI there… They're coming after him and it's because they don't want him to expose the pedophiles."
Perez based her claims, in part, on a Tuesday Politico story speculating that the judge who signed the FBI's warrant for the raid is Bruce Reinhart, who, in 2008, also represented former employees of Jeffrey Epstein, the deceased sex offender and financier whose connections to powerful people around the world, including Trump, have long been used to prop up QAnon's elaborate theories. From that exceptionally flimsy foundation, Perez argued, "We are looking at a man who was behind this warrant to raid Mar-a-Lago who is basically supportive of Jeffrey Epstein."
As many other QAnon supporters have done over the movement's brief but eventful existence, Perez pointed to a handful of statements from Trump as evidence of his covert support for the cause, and for the baffling and counterintuitive conviction that Trump ran for president in 2016 with the primary goal of exposing the supposed cabal. Among them was an exchange during a 2020 election town hall hosted by NBC, in which Trump repeatedly refused to disavow QAnon, telling host Savannah Guthrie that he couldn't say for sure that Democrats weren't running a satanic pedophile cult, and neither could she. "I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard," Trump said. "And I agree with that."
"What a dumb woman," Perez said after playing the clip. "Of course there are satanic cults that are running this. Of course there is child abuse. Of course there's pedophiles everywhere in government."
Sitting beside her, David Brody nodded along. Prior to joining Real America's Voice, Brody was chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, where he conducted one of Trump's first post-inauguration sit-down interviews in 2017 and also did multiple interviews with Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign. Brody's successful efforts to make Trump palatable to evangelicals, in large part through a series of eight interviews with the candidate during his 2016 race, earned him "phenomenal" access to the Trump White House and the chance to co-author a "spiritual biography" of the 45th president, as well as a place alongside Maggie Haberman and Tucker Carlson in AdWeek's 2017 list of the top 15 "political power players" in the media.
In 2020, though, Brody joined Real America's Voice, a far-right media empire built to serve as a home for Steve Bannon's talk show "War Room" after the former Trump campaign CEO and White House strategist was de-platformed from venues like YouTube and Spotify. As the network expanded, also hiring hosts like disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, its leadership promised to serve as "a platform for patriots all across America who care about traditional values." But as one former RAV producer told the Washington Post earlier this year, "We were told fairly regularly that we were Trump propaganda…That was the message from the top: 'We're a Trump propaganda network.' That's where the money was."
RAV's "Water Cooler" show isn't the only place where QAnon conspiracy theorists have been working overtime to square the news of the Mar-a-Lago raid with their unified theory of the coming "Storm" — in the QAnon-verse, a day of mass judgment when all members of the supposed pedophile cabal will be arrested and brought to justice, generally understood to mean summary trial and execution.
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In various internet forums, as Media Matters senior fellow Alex Kaplan noted on Twitter, QAnon influencers made the argument that the FBI search of Trump's Palm Beach redoubt was somehow part of the larger plan that "Q" — the anonymous figure or figures behind the posts that undergird QAnon lore — had prophesied.
"Was this part of 'The Plan'???" one influencer asked on 8chan. "Q told us to 'Trust Wray,'" another wrote on Telegram. "Who leads the FBI? Q told us 'How do you get evidence entered legally.' (FBI raid gets all the info on the record). Q asks 'Who has all the information?' DJT does."
QAnon influencers have labored to argue that the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago was somehow part of "The Plan" prophesied by Q: "Remember that Trump repeatedly told us the best was yet to come."
Yet another influencer, as Newsweek reported, posted, "It's important to understand something right now. The storm is definitely coming in and it may get extremely wild and unpredictable…But the end is this: Nothing can stop what is coming. Period. When the chaos closes in, choose to trust God and remember that Trump repeatedly told us the best was yet to come."
Trump himself seemed to promote the idea that the raid fit into QAnon's conspiracist theology in a video he posted on Tuesday to Truth Social, his struggling social media platform. As Kaplan reported on Wednesday, Trump's video paired video footage of his own speeches with a background song entitled "Wwg1wga" — the abbreviated form of the QAnon slogan "Where we go one, we go all," which has been widely used as a movement hashtag. The video also incorporated visuals of rain and the sound of thunder, in an unmistakable reference to QAnon's faith in the salvific coming "storm."
On Real America's Voice, in response to Perez's wild theories, David Brody nodded along, saying that he "hundred-percent agree[d]" with her argument that Trump had run for president in order to dismantle Democrats' pedophile network.
"The devil's-advocate argument is going to be, 'OK, great, so these are all pedophiles, where's the evidence?'" said Brody, who, although long a voice of right-wing media, has also had unusual access to the highest levels of political power. But the complete absence of supporting evidence for any of QAnon's claims, Brody continued, was proof in itself. "There is nothing wrong with, especially in today's day and age for sure, questioning authority," he said. "And questioning everything we know, because really we know nothing based on the fact that they've given us no reason to believe anything."
Perez readily agreed, asking, "Why wouldn't the Deep State be protecting pedophiles?"
David Brody explains: "There is nothing wrong with ... questioning everything we know, because really we know nothing, based on the fact that they've given us no reason to believe anything."
All of this might be troubling enough: QAnon conspiracy theories being promoted in straightforward fashion, with no artful coding, on a national media network with the apparent approval of a formerly-somewhat-mainstream journalist who had close access to multiple presidents. But the two then shifted into a broader indictment, claiming that the pedophile network QAnon adherents have long warned about has now been paired with a larger threat from LGBTQ people and teachers.
"All of this is happening on a very higher-up level, on the elite level," said Perez. "What's going on at the lowest ground level possible is you have the normalization of pedophilia in schools. They're not groomers. They're outright pedophiles that are teaching some of our kids in these school districts."
When Perez argued that "the LGBTQA group, whatever they call themselves now," was "laying the groundwork for people in just a daily-life setting to accept pedophilia," as a sort of mass-market corollary to the elite cabal, Brody agreed again. "This is why the left hates that 'groomer' term," he said. "Because it hits a little too close to home." He went on to tell Perez that her work was "a service to America, really."
At the end of the segment, Brody invited Perez to explain what drove her passion for the issue. After nearly 20 minutes of broadcasting dangerous, fact-free claims, the two hosts seemed to accidentally land on a moment of truth, as Perez responded that she'd been activated by stuff she'd seen online. "Things just started popping up in my YouTube feed, even, or just anywhere I looked," she said. "I couldn't turn away from these stories."
Brody helped her along: "You couldn't escape. It was all around you."
Why searching an ex-president’s estate is not easily done – 4 important things to know about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago
The FBI’s raid of former President Donald Trump’s estate on Aug. 8, 2022, caught Trump by surprise – and prompted immediate speculation about exactly why and how the law enforcement agency secured a search warrant.
“My beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. … They even broke into my safe!” Trump said in a statement released through his political action committee, Save America.
Trump brought 15 boxes of classified materials with him to Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House, and delayed returning the materials to National Archives officials for months.
The FBI and the Department of Justice have not commented on the raid, but the Justice Department is known to be investigating how Trump possibly mishandled government secrets. Trump is also facing other potential charges from the state of Georgia stemming from his alleged interference with the 2020 elections.
Georgia State University legal scholar Clark D. Cunningham, an expert on search warrants and the criminal investigations of interference in the 2020 election, explains what could have led to the raid and what the raid tells us about the state of the federal investigation into Trump’s activities.
1. There are legal hurdles to getting a search warrant
The U.S. Constitution requires that all search warrants “particularly describe the place to be searched and the … things to be seized.”
This requirement can be traced in part to a famous British case from the 1760s when agents of King George III searched the house of John Wilkes, an opposition member of Parliament, for incriminating papers. The warrant they used was condemned by the courts as a “general warrant” because it did not specifically name Wilkes, his house or the seized papers.
Courts and commentators also criticized the Wilkes warrant because it was based on mere suspicion. The U.S. founders looked to the Wilkes warrant as an example of what the Constitution should prevent and added the Fourth Amendment – requiring that search warrants only be issued “upon probable cause, supported by Oath.”
Criminal procedure laws help enforce these constitutional requirements by requiring search warrants to particularly describe “evidence of a crime … or other items illegally possessed.”
Only judges can issue search warrants, and they must find, based on sworn testimony, that there is probable cause that such evidence or items will be found in the location described in the warrant.
This means that a judge must have found that there was probable cause that either a crime had been committed, or that Trump was illegally possessing items taken from the White House. The FBI’s request for a search warrant might also have indicated concern that these documents would either be destroyed or moved off of the premises.
2. There are also potential policy hurdles
In February 2020, then-Attorney General William Barr announced new restrictions that require the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to get permission from the Attorney General before investigating presidential candidates or their staff.
This means that this search would not have taken place without Garland’s approval. Given the generally strong tradition of political independence at the Justice Department, it is not surprising that President Joe Biden and his aides were not informed in advance of the raid and found out on Twitter.
3. The FBI might have found more than it was looking for
The Supreme Court ruled in a 1990 case that police executing a warrant that authorized searching for the proceeds of a robbery could also lawfully seize weapons that were in plain view.
Assuming that the FBI’s warrant authorized only searching for classified documents taken from the White House, if the FBI found “in plain view” other evidence of crimes related to the 2020 election or Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, they likely could have taken that, as well.
4. There may be a connection with Trump’s possible election interference
A federal grand jury, requested by the Justice Department, has been investigating the presence of potentially classified documents at Mar-a-Lago since at least early May 2022. It seems likely that something has happened recently to cause this urgent search. One possibility is that the search warrant was issued based on information gathered in one or more of the criminal investigations involving 2020 election interference.
In particular, the Department of Justice on July 12, 2022, obtained a warrant to search the cellphone of John Eastman, Trump’s former lawyer. As hearings by the Jan. 6 House committee have revealed, Eastman was a primary architect of the plan to block Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
There seems little doubt that the Justice Department had compelling, perhaps overwhelming, legal justifications for conducting this unprecedented search of a former president’s home. However, the secrecy required for Justice Department investigations and grand jury proceedings means that the country will have to be patient – the justifications for the search may become public only if and when criminal charges are filed.