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Former President Donald Trump allegedly sent a private message to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland before a Department of Justice press conference Thursday afternoon, appearing to ask what he could do to help bring down the political tensions that were brought to a boiling point last week following the FBI’s raid on Trump’s home in Florida.
Shortly before the press conference, a person close to the former president reached out to an official at the Justice Department to deliver a message to Garland.
The New York Times reported that the message Trump wanted to be passed to Garland was: “The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?”
During the press conference, Garland, who was 35 minutes late, only spoke for a few minutes and answered no questions from reporters.
“First, I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant in this matter,” Garland admitted during the press conference. “Second, 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.”
The investigation into the former president centers around several potential criminal violations, including violations of the Espionage Act, the unlawful taking of government records, and obstruction of justice related to destroying documents.
Multiple sources told The New York Times that at least one of Trump’s lawyers signed a written statement to the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this summer that claimed that all classified material and boxes in a storage area on the property had been returned to the federal government. Agents searched the storage area and Trump’s office and residence on the property.
Federal investigators recovered at least 4 sets of top secret documents, 3 sets of secret documents, and 3 sets of confidential documents while searching the property. The signed declaration, combined with at least 11 sets of classified documents that were discovered on the property, could mean that either Trump or his legal team potentially lied to federal investigators.
The investigation was launched after the National Archives discovered last year that Trump had taken government records when he left office that they were supposed to receive. Officials reviewed more than a dozen boxes that Trump returned at the start of this year and discovered that many documents were marked as classified. The National Archives contacted the DOJ and the DOJ, in turn, convened a federal grand jury.
A subpoena was subsequently issued to retrieve the remaining documents. The report says Trump’s advisers urged him to return the documents, but he decided against doing so. Investigators visited the property in June and were shown by Trump’s lawyers the storage area where some of the classified material was being kept. The investigators left with the classified material. After that visit, at least one of Trump’s lawyers reportedly signed a written statement saying that all the classified information had been returned.
After the meeting, those investigators told Trump’s team that they needed to take additional steps to further secure the room where some White House records were being stored. Subpoenaed surveillance footage from outside the storage room showed that over a two-month period, boxes were shuffled in and out of the room. At some point during the investigation, a source close to the president gave the FBI information that led them to believe that there was additional classified material on the property.
Trump has repeatedly stated that he had declassified all the material that was at his Florida residence, which he could have legally done when he was president, although a separate report from The New York Times noted that usually when that happens, classified markings are removed from the documents. The report noted that none of the criminal violations that Trump is under investigation for have anything to do with whether the documents were classified or not, meaning that Trump could still be charged with a crime even if he did declassify the documents.