One of the funniest aspects of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s house, insofar as there’s anything funny about a one-man crime wave having served as the president of the United States, is the matter of “the warrant.” In their rush to blindly defend Mr. Mar-a-Lago, many of Trump‘s allies have spent the week demanding that the government make public the legal document the feds obtained in order to search the Palm Beach residence, suggesting that the failure to do so is evidence the government has nothing on the former president and the raid was a craven attempt to politically persecute him. This was a bizarre strategy to take for two reasons, with the first being that Trump himself has had a copy of the warrant this entire time, but—curiously!—refused to make it public. The other reason? Because after all the insinuations and hysteria, Attorney General Merrick Garland ultimately called their bluff.
Yes, in an incredible turn of events, Garland announced during a press conference on Thursday that the Justice Department has filed a motion for the court-authorized warrant that gave the FBI permission to search Mar-a-Lago to be unsealed. This, you may have deduced, is not great news for the former president.
For starters, as Elie Mystal, an attorney and justice correspondent for The Nation notes, the warrant “will lay out all the probable cause to search” Mar-a-Lago, i.e. the reasons the government believed the search could uncover evidence of a crime. (In its request, the DOJ also asked for two attachments to the warrant to be unsealed, as well as the property receipt for the items the agents removed.) Then there’s the fact that Trump and his attorneys are now in the position of having to decide if they should fight the document being unsealed, which would make it look like they have something to hide, or just let it happen, which they probably also don’t want to do. (If they did, they would have released it already.) Sadly for the former guy, even if his lawyers decide to argue against the warrant being unsealed, the judge reportedly could decide to do so anyway.
Elsewhere in Garland‘s remarks, which lasted just a couple minutes, the attorney general confirmed that he personally approved the decision to seek the search warrant. He added that the department “does not take such a decision lightly” and that “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.” In other words, if Garland—who has made it clear that protecting the integrity of the Justice Department is his number one priority—had thought there was another way to do this, he would have taken it. As The New York Times reported on Thursday morning, Trump had received a subpoena this spring for the documents investigators believed he had kept a hold of, after the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago. The subpoena, the Times noted, suggested “that the Justice Department tried methods short of a search warrant to account for the material before taking the politically explosive step of sending F.B.I. agents unannounced to Mar-a-Lago.” Two people familiar with the matter said the classified documents investigators believed Trump failed to return “were so sensitive in nature, and related to national security, that the Justice Department had to act.”