(WASHINGTON) — 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.
The FBI operation was in relation to documents that Trump took with him when he departed Washington, including some records the National Archives said were marked classified, sources previously told ABC News.
Garland said Thursday 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.
Garland did not discuss any specifics of law enforcement’s work.
“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.”
He said he “personally approved” the unprecedented decision to seek such 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,” Garland said.
He acknowledged there was still much he could not say — given longstanding department policy not to comment on ongoing investigations that may 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,” he 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 have cast the investigation as a partisan sham. Trump said it was “not necessary or appropriate”; he has not released any information about the court-authorized search warrant, which he would have been provided.
The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated patriotic public servants, every day,” Garland said Thursday, noting that 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 have the appropriate time.”
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