AG Merrick Garland says he signed off on Trump search, denounces attacks on law enforcement
The government on Thursday also filed a motion to unseal the search warrant.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday afternoon spoke for the first time since FBI agents raided former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
Citing "the substantial public interest in this matter," Garland said the government had filed a motion to unseal the warrant authorizing Monday's search, which Trump has sharply criticized as a partisan attack.
It was not immediately clear how quickly the judge in the case may release the warrant and federal prosecutors noted in their request, filed Thursday, that it should be granted only "absent objection by former President Trump."
Garland said that Trump's attorney had been provided on Monday with a copy of both the warrant and a list of what was taken from Mar-a-Lago by the agents -- contradicting past statements by Trump's son Eric.
In his four-minute remarks, Garland did not discuss any specifics of law enforcement's work or the larger investigation related to Trump.
"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," he said. "Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing."
“The search warrant was authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause,” he said.
Sources previously told ABC News that Monday's search was in connection to documents that Trump took with him when he departed Washington, including some records the National Archives said were marked classified.
Garland said Thursday he "personally approved" the unprecedented decision to seek a search warrant against a former president but stressed that "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," he said.
ABC News reported earlier Thursday that, according to sources, Trump previously received a subpoena in the spring for documents related to what he is believed to have failed to turn over to the National Archives, which had recovered 15 boxes of material from Mar-a-Lago in January.
Garland acknowledged there was still much he could not say -- given longstanding department policy not to comment on ongoing investigations and unduly harm those caught in law enforcement's wake before charges, if ever, are brought.
The search of Trump's home marked a significant development in one of several legal issues that Trump faces. (He denies wrongdoing in each.)
"All Americans are rightly entitled to the even-handed application of the law, to due process of the law and to the presumption of innocence," Garland said. "Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye. We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations."
Finally, he said, he wanted to "address recent unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors."
The search of Mar-a-Lago drew a resounding chorus of criticism from Republicans and some others over what the detractors said was a lack of clarity about why such a move was necessary.
"The American people want transparency when you are raiding the home of a former president," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Wednesday. "The FBI is raiding the home of a former president. The American people deserve to know why."
Speaking at a separate event Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said of the search, "I'm sure you can appreciate that's not something I can talk about."
As Trump has many times before, he and his allies cast the federal investigation as a partisan sham. Trump said the search was "not necessary or appropriate"; he has not released any information about the court-authorized search warrant.
"These are dark times for our Nation. ... It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024," Trump said in a statement on Monday night, in the first public confirmation of a search that Garland said Thursday officials had worked to keep out of view.
He also pushed back on the denunciation of law enforcement.
"The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants, every day," Garland said. He would "not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked."
"They protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety while safeguarding our civil rights," Garland said. "They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves. I am honored to work alongside them."
"This is all I can say right now," Garland concluded, rebuffing questions from journalists in the room. "More information will be made available in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time."
In its request to unseal the search warrant, filed Thursday in federal court in Florida, the Justice Department wrote that its decision was made in light of "the public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances."
The government's filing notes the warrant was signed on Friday and also requests the unsealing of a redacted inventory of what was taken by agents at Mar-a-Lago as well as two attachments -- A and B. Prosecutors did not seek to release any supporting affidavit for the warrant, in which law enforcement would have explained, in narrative style, why they sought to search Trump's home.
The warrant itself is a simple standard form that is likely to contain some basic information about the location of the search, a description of the property, the date and a signature line for the magistrate judge.
Attachment A is usually a more detailed description of the location or target of the warrant. Attachment B is usually a more detailed description of the property being seized and that relates to the violation of a specified statue -- which would help indicate what law or laws investigators believe may have been broken.
Prosecutors wrote that Trump "should have an opportunity to respond to this Motion and lodge objections, including with regards to any 'legitimate privacy interests' or the potential for other 'injury' if these materials are made public."
Court records show that responses will be due in the matter by Aug. 25.
About an hour after Garland spoke, the judge in the case ordered prosecutors to confer with Trump’s lawyers and report back at or before 3 p.m. ET Friday as to whether Trump opposes the motion to unseal the warrant.
People close to Trump have been discussing the possibility of challenging the motion to unseal the warrant, according to sources familiar with his thinking. Allies have also been contacting additional lawyers in hopes that someone can help them challenge it, the people briefed said.
Lawyers who are said to be representing Trump in the matter are not responding to requests for comment.
The head of the Department of Justice's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, Jay Bratt, is one of two DOJ officials who signed off on the request to unseal -- along with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Juan Gonzalez.
The head of DOJ's national security division, Matt Olsen, was also present in the room for Garland's remarks Thursday, a reflection of the NSD's prominent role in the investigation.
As was the case with Monday's search, the White House said they only learned about Garland's remarks from the media.
ABC News' Jack Date, Katherine Faulders, Isabella Murray, Molly Nagle and John Santucci contributed to this report.
ABC News Live
24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events