UPDATE (Aug. 26, 2022, 12:44 p.m. ET): The Justice Department on Friday unsealed a partially redacted copy of the FBI affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month.
There’s been a flood of information in recent weeks about Donald Trump, the classified materials he took to Mar-a-Lago, the National Archives, and the Justice Department’s investigation, but there was one recent detail about Attorney General Merrick Garland that warranted some follow up.
According to a New York Times report published two weeks ago, “shortly before” Garland delivered public remarks on the controversy, announced plans to unseal the warrant related to the former president’s Florida property, “a person close to Mr. Trump reached out to a Justice Department official to pass along a message from the former president to the attorney general.”
The Times added that the Republican wanted the attorney general to know that FBI’s search had enraged the nation, and Trump wanted to know what he could to “to reduce the heat.”
I had quite a few questions about this, some of which, oddly enough, were answered this week by Trump himself.
On Monday, the former president and his lawyers asked a judge to order the appointment of a special master to oversee the handling of the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, but as part of the court filing, Team Trump also shed some light on events that happened behind the scenes.
According to the former president’s own version of events, on Aug. 11 — two weeks ago today — one of Trump’s lawyers had a phone conversation with Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterespionage section of the national security division of the Justice Department who’d been involved in the investigation. This week’s court filing added that “the first item of discussion” was a message Trump wanted to convey to the nation’s chief law enforcement official:
“President Trump wants the Attorney General to know that he has been hearing from people all over the country about the raid. If there was one word to describe their mood, it is ‘angry.’ The heat is building up. The pressure is building up. Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know.”
In other words, according to Team Trump, the Times’ reporting was exactly right.
That said, the scenario described in the filing hardly does the former president any favors. Garland delivered public remarks on Aug. 11. According to Team Trump’s version of events, that same day, before the attorney general spoke, the Republican had one of his lawyers deliver a message to a top Justice Department official, with the expectation that it would be conveyed to Garland directly.
The message wasn’t an explicit threat, per se, though Trump wanted the attorney general to know that, as far as the former president was concerned, the nation was outraged by the execution of a court-approved search warrant. Trump was apparently concerned about the consequences of the “heat” and “pressure.”
Part of the problem with this is that Trump’s concerns about national stability were obviously insincere: The former president lashed out wildly at law enforcement before Aug. 11 — helping create much of the “anger” referenced in his message — and his rhetoric became even more caustic in the days that followed Garland’s remarks.
But let’s also not miss the forest for the trees. Facing an intensifying federal investigation, and just days after the FBI executed a search warrant at one of his properties, Trump thought it’d be a good idea to deliver a message to the attorney general with an ominous warning about rising “heat” and “pressure ... building up.”
That’s not based on claims from unnamed sources; that’s what happened according to the former president’s own court filing.
I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this one.