WASHINGTON, Aug 12 — US justice officials were poised today to make public a sealed warrant explaining the unprecedented raid on Donald Trump's Florida estate that triggered accusations of political persecution by the former president and his supporters.
The 76-year-old Trump supported the release of the search warrant, although he has had a copy of the document for days and could have revealed its contents himself previously.
The search on Monday was believed to be focused on classified papers Trump may have removed from the White House, with one report suggesting they included documents related to nuclear weapons.
The highly unusual move to unseal the search warrant and the receipt listing the property seized by FBI agents was announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland — the country's top law enforcement officer — who said he had "personally approved" the dramatic raid on Trump's Mar-a-Largo resort home.
The Republican former president and his legal team have until 3:00pm (1900 GMT) Friday to oppose Garland's court request if they so choose. But in overnight social media posts Trump insisted he was actively encouraging making them public.
"Release the documents now!" he wrote on his Truth Social platform, as he slammed the raid on his home as a "political weaponization of law enforcement."
Andrew Weissmann, a former Justice Department official, said Garland had "called Trump's bluff" by putting the onus on the former president to object or consent to release of the document.
The Justice Department motion to unseal the warrant noted — and did not dispute — statements by Trump's representatives that the FBI was seeking presidential records and potential classified material.
According to US media, the search related to potential mishandling of classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House in January 2021.
The Washington Post yesterday cited anonymous sources close to the investigation as saying classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the papers sought by FBI agents during the raid.
Trump himself appeared to deny the claim, posting that the "nuclear weapons issue is a hoax" and suggesting the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have been "planting information" at his home.
The FBI raid sparked a political firestorm in an already bitterly divided country, and comes as Trump weighs another White House run in 2024.
In a statement yesterday Trump said his attorneys had been "cooperating fully" and "the government could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it."
Leading Republicans have rallied around Trump, and some members of his party have harshly denounced the Justice Department and FBI, accusing them of partisanship in targeting the ex-president.
Garland criticised what he called "unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors."
In the hours before Garland's remarks, an armed man tried to storm an FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio in an attack that appeared to be a direct response to the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.
The assailant, shot dead by police after exchanges of gunfire and an hours-long standoff, was identified as Ricky Shiffer.
The New York Times said a person posting on Truth Social under that name wrote "I tried attacking the FBI," and said he hoped his actions would serve as a "call to arms."
The Justice Department typically does not confirm or deny whether it is investigating someone, and Garland took pains to emphasise the law was being applied fairly to Trump.
"Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy," he said. "The rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor."
In addition to investigations into his business practices, Trump faces legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the election and the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters. — AFP