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Your Friday Briefing: U.S. to Unseal Trump Warrant

Good morning. We discuss US actions to unseal Mar-a-Lago’s search warrant, Russia’s preparation for potential show trials, and Taiwan’s fearless diplomacy.

Merrick Garland, the US Attorney General, has decided to rescind the warrant authorizing the FBI to search classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Florida residence. Garland said he personally approved the decision to seek the warrant.

Garland’s statement followed revelations that Trump received a document subpoena this spring, months ahead of Monday’s FBI search. It also came a day after Trump asserted his Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination when he was questioned by the New York Attorney General in a civil case about his business practices.

The subpoena suggests the Justice Department tried methods other than a search warrant to account for the material before taking the politically explosive step of sending unannounced FBI agents to the former president’s door. Here are live updates.

Details: Officials believe the former president erroneously took documents after his departure. The Department of Justice has not disclosed the exact nature of the material it was trying to recover, but it has indicated that the material contained confidential information of a sensitive nature.

Analysis: Garland’s decision to appear publicly came at an extraordinary time in the department’s 152-year history as the extensive investigation into a former president who remains a powerful political force gains momentum. After coming under pressure, Garland said he decided to go public to serve the “public interest.”

Russia has installed cages in a large Mariupol theater, apparently preparing for show trials of captured Ukrainian soldiers on newly occupied ground. The trials could begin on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day.

Some fear the Kremlin plans to use the trappings of legal proceedings to bolster its story of fighters who defended the southern Ukrainian city and spent weeks under a steel mill. Ukrainian officials have called for international intervention.

Moscow may also use the trials to shift responsibility for the atrocities committed by Russia when its troops besieged Mariupol. The Kremlin has a long and ruthless history of using such processes to increase the credibility of attempts to silence critics. Here are live updates.

context: Concerns over the safety of prisoners have only grown since last month, when Ukrainian authorities accused Moscow of orchestrating an explosion at a Russian prison camp that killed at least 50 Ukrainian POWs.

Other updates:

China’s ongoing military exercises have not deterred Taiwan, my colleagues write in an analysis.

In fact, the exercises have hardened the self-ruled island’s belief in the value of its diplomatic, economic and military maneuvers to find a middle ground in the major power standoff between Beijing and Washington.

Under Tsai Ing-wen, the current president, Taiwanese officials have quietly courted the US, making profits from arms sales and vows of support. They have also turned China’s roar into a growing international awareness of the island’s plight.

But Taiwan has refrained from showing off that success in an effort to prevent eruptions from China. When Beijing recently sent dozens of fighters across the waters separating China and Taiwan, the Taiwanese military said it would not escalate and took relatively lenient countermeasures. Officials made sober statements and welcomed the support of the Group of 7 countries.

What’s next: US officials have considered building weapons in Taiwan over fears it would be difficult to resupply the island in the event of a Chinese military blockade.

New Zealand has placed a rising price on greenhouse gas emissions. But the plan could threaten its iconic farmland: Forestry investors are rushing to buy up pastures to plant carbon-sucking trees.

The US this week unveiled a new Africa policy based on a well-known strategy of promoting democracy. The challenge lies in selling to a changing continent.

“Too often African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations’ progress rather than authors of their own,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he presented the new US approach during a tour that saw South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

The US “will not dictate Africa’s choices,” he added, in apparent response to criticism that America’s attitude toward Africa could be condescending, if not offensive.

“I think, given the history, the approach should be slightly different, and I would like to pay more attention to tools that Africans have developed,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister.

In addition to their own tools and institutions, such as the African Union, more African states are wealthier than a generation ago, said Bob Wekesa, the deputy director of the African Center for the Study of the United States in Johannesburg.

“They can afford to say, ‘We can choose who they want to do business with,'” Wekesa said. Those new partnerships include not only US rivals Russia and China, but also emerging powers such as Turkey and India. Traditional US allies like Botswana and Zambia are likely to embrace the US strategy, but strong leaders in Uganda and even Rwanda are likely to resist more, he added.

Yesterday in Kigali, Blinken said he had urged leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to end their support for militias in eastern Congo. He also expressed concern about the detention of the US resident who inspired the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, Paul Rusesabagina.

But just hours before his meeting with Blinken, President Paul Kagame was pouring cold water over suggestions that he might be affected by the Rusesabagina case. “Don’t worry… there are things that just don’t work around here!!” he said on Twitter. — Lynsey Chutel, briefing writer, based in Johannesburg.

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