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Garland becomes Trump’s target after FBI search for Mar-a-Lago

The FBI had just left Mar-a-Lago when former President Donald J. Trump’s allies, led by California Representative Kevin McCarthy, began bombing vitriol and threatening the man they see as an enemy. and foiling: Attorney General Merrick B Slinger.

Mr Garland, a scholastic former judge who, during his failed Supreme Court nomination in 2016, told senators he had no “political bone” in his body, responded, as he so often does, by not responding.

The Justice Department would not recognize the execution of a search warrant at Mr. Trump’s home on Monday, nor would Mr. Garland’s aides confirm his involvement in the decision or even whether he was aware of the search prior to it. was carried out. They declined to comment on any fact brought to their attention. Mr. Garland’s schedule this week does not include any public events where he could be questioned by reporters.

As a captain trying to avoid drifting out of sight and into the hurricane, Mr. Garland hopes to navigate the vast and multifaceted investigation into the actions of Mr. Trump and his supporters after the 2020 election without compromising the integrity of the endanger persecution or destroy his legacy.

To that end, the Attorney General is acting with maximum secrecy and minimum public comment, a course similar to that of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, during his two-year investigation into Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia. .

That empowered approach can avoid the pitfalls of the relatively more public investigations into Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election by James B. Comey, then the FBI director. But it comes at its own risk: relinquishing control of the public narrative to Mr. Trump and his allies, who are not constrained by law or even fact to fight back.

“Garland has said he wants his investigation to be apolitical, but nothing he does will stop Trump from distorting the perception of the investigation given the asymmetrical rules,” Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s top aides, said in a statement. the special office of counsel.

“Under Justice Department policy, we were not allowed to take that criticism,” added Mr Weissmann. “Playing according to the rules of the Department of Justice unfortunately leaves the playing field open for this abuse.”

Mr. Mueller’s refusal to engage with his critics, or even to defend himself against obvious slander and lies, allowed Mr. Trump to fill the political void with reckless accusations of a witch hunt, while special counsel made his public statements limited to thick legal jargon. Mr Trump’s broadsides helped define the Russia investigation as a partisan attack, despite Mr Mueller being a Republican.

Some of the top Justice Department officials who make the decisions now have deep ties to Mr. Mueller and view Mr. Comey’s willingness to openly discuss his 2016 investigations into Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump as a gross violation of the Judicial Handbook, the department’s procedural manual.

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant was requested by the Justice Department’s National Security Branch, headed by Matthew G. Olsen, under Mr. Mueller served when he was the FBI director. In 2019, Mr. Olsen expressed his surprise that the publicity-shy Mueller was even willing to appear at a press conference announcing his decision to expose Mr Trump’s conduct, but did not recommend that he be prosecuted or held accountable for interference in the conduct of Mr. Russian investigation.

But people close to Mr. Garland say that while his team respects Mr. Mueller, they have learned from his mistakes. Mr. Garland, despite his silence this week, has made it a point on many occasions to speak publicly about the investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol – if only to explain why he can talk about the investigation publicly.

“I understand this may not be the answer some are looking for,” he said during a speech marking the first anniversary of the attack on the Capitol. “But we will and we must speak through our work. Anything else jeopardizes the viability of our research and the civil liberties of our citizens.”



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Behind the Journalism

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At the time, that comment was intended to appease Democrats who wanted him to pursue Mr Trump more aggressively. Now it is Republican leaders, including Mr. McCarthy, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former Vice President Mike Pence, who are pushing for a public statement of his actions.

mr. Garland enjoys a significant advantage over Mr. Mueller as he goes into battle. The House Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol plans to continue its investigation into the fall, and its members plan to make the issue of Mr. Trump’s actions a central political topic during the midterm elections and in 2024, and Mr. Garland the kind of covering fire that Mr. Mueller never had.

Still, some supporters of the Attorney General believe he should do more to defend himself.

While the Department of Justice generally doesn’t discuss cases, guidelines that prevent prosecutors from discussing criminal investigations in public include exceptions to the mother-is-the-word standard. Federal prosecutors sometimes explain why they choose not to press charges in high-profile cases if it is deemed in the public interest.

“Does the public interest require more in this day and age?” said Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, who believes the department can better inform the public about how the rule of law works — without violating laws governing grand jury material and ethical considerations.

“If Trump calls this a raid, why not explain how a search warrant works?” she asked. “Could that kind of information come from the mouth of a government official, instead of a legal analyst on television?”

But Justice Department officials are painfully aware of the risks they face in such a politically sensitive investigation, and many are bracing for the investigations Republicans have explicitly threatened to conduct if they take the House in the presidential election. take back Nov.

As a result, Mr. Garland’s aides have been wary of disclosing even basic information, including the attorney general’s role in major decisions or the deployment of key personnel such as Thomas P. Windom, who was tapped last fall to conduct the investigation. the US lead law firm in Washington.

The FBI investigation in Mar-a-Lago appears to have focused on Mr Trump’s handling of material he took from the White House residence at the end of his presidency, including many pages of classified documents.

For now, there’s no evidence that the search, which was approved by a federal judge, is related to the department’s extensive investigation into its plan to create voter rolls that falsely said Mr. Trump had won in key swing states in 2020.

However, the information gathered by Mar-a-Lago investigators could be used in other cases if it proves relevant, according to Norman L. Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. .

Nevertheless, by the end of Monday, the former president and his supporters tried to seize the offensive by filling the rhetorical void left by federal investigators, accusing Mr. Garland of perforating the law for political reasons.

In the past, Democrats have relentlessly claimed that Mr Trump’s behavior as president provoked the actions of dictators in other countries. In a statement Monday night about the search for Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump reiterated that line of criticism.

“It is prosecutorial misconduct, the arming of the justice system and an attack by radical left Democrats who desperately do not want me to run for president in 2024,” he said in the statement, adding: “Such an attack can only take place in broken, third world countries.”

As often happens, that argument quickly became a template for his supporters, especially those who went to office this year. “The arming of Biden’s DOJ against political enemies is unprecedented,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, the Republican Senate candidate in that state, said in a statement. wrote on Twitter. “These are Banana Republic stuff,” he added.

But none went as far as Mr. McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House, who has sought to mend his relationship with the former president after sharply criticizing Mr Trump’s actions on Jan. 6.

“I’ve seen enough”, Mr McCarthy said:. “The Justice Department has reached an intolerable state of armed politicization. When Republicans take back the House, we will immediately oversee this department, follow the facts and leave no stone unturned.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman had no comment.

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