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US attorney general defends search of Trump residence and seeks to unseal warrant

US attorney general Merrick Garland has said he personally approved a decision to search former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and that he is asking a judge to unseal the warrant.

“The department does not take such a decision lightly,” Mr Garland said Thursday, in his first public comments on the matter.

The FBI searched Mr Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida on Monday looking for classified documents that the businessman turned politician may have improperly removed from the White House.

Mr Garland’s comments marked a sharp departure from the department’s usual practice of not discussing an ongoing investigation. He rebutted the torrent of criticism from Mr Trump and his Republican allies over the unprecedented search of a former president’s home.

Justice department lawyers wrote in a court filing that the original reasons for sealing the warrant materials were no longer relevant now that the search had been executed and Mr Trump and his representatives had spoken publicly about it.

“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” the department said in the filing.

Several news outlets and advocacy groups had argued that a federal magistrate judge in Florida should unseal the docket for the search warrant. US magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart had given the government until early next week to respond. The court has given Mr Trump and his lawyers a deadline of August 25th for their response to the government request to make the documents public.

Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Alina Habba, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the motion to unseal the warrant.

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Trump allies suggested the search warrant – which a federal judge had to sign off on after finding probable cause that a search would yield evidence of crimes – was politically motivated. Some conservative commentators also floated baseless conspiracy theories that FBI agents might have planted evidence.

Mr Garland pushed back on what he called unfounded attacks on the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department agents and prosecutors.

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” he said. “Every day they protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety while safeguarding our civil rights. They do so at great personal sacrifice and risk to themselves.

The search and seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago was part of an investigation into whether Mr Trump unlawfully held onto presidential records, including classified materials, after leaving office in January of last year. Removing presidential records without authorisation potentially violates a number of federal laws. – Bloomberg