Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Garland defends FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

Attorney General Merrick Garland
Susan Walsh/The Associated Press
Attorney General Merrick Garland listens to a question as he leaves the podium after speaking at the Justice Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday defended the FBI’s search of former President Trumps’ Mar-a-Lago as the Justice Department asked a judge to unseal the warrant authorizing the search. 

We’ll talk about Garland’s first public comments since the Monday search. Plus, we’ll talk about Russia confirming the existence of prisoner swap negotiations for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams.

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DOJ asks court to unseal Trump search warrant 

The Justice Department on Thursday moved to unseal a warrant authorizing a search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate this week following escalating demands for answers about the unprecedented investigation. 

‘Clear and powerful interest:’ “The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing submitted Thursday afternoon. 

What’s at issue? In addition to the search warrant itself, the sealed materials at issue include the FBI’s inventory of what it seized during Monday’s search and likely a law enforcement affidavit laying out the basis to suspect there was evidence of criminal conduct at Mar-a-Lago. 

‘Personally approved:’ The filing coincided with a public statement from Attorney General Merrick Garland, his first since FBI agents executed the search warrant on Monday. 

Garland said he personally signed off on the decision to apply for and execute that search warrant, and that the decision was not made “lightly.” 

“All Americans are entitled to the even-handed application of the law, to due process of law and to the presumption of innocence,” Garland said in remarks at DOJ headquarters. “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. Federal law, long standing department rules and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time.” 

What happens now? Trump will have an opportunity to argue against unsealing the materials if he disagrees with the move. Attorneys representing the former president did not immediately respond when asked for comment. 

Read the full story here.

Garland, Wray denounce threats against FBI

Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray denounced threats against the bureau this week after its agents executed a search warrant at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.  

“I’m always concerned about violence and threats of violence against law enforcement,” Wray said during remarks at the FBI’s Field Office in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday. “Violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter what anybody’s upset about or who they’re upset with.” 

Garland, in short remarks from DOJ headquarters on Thursday, specifically slammed “unfounded attacks” on DOJ and FBI agents and prosecutors. His comments came hours after an armed man in Ohio tried to break into the Cincinnati FBI field office.   

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said.  

“The men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated, patriotic public servants. 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. I am honored to work alongside them,” he continued. 

Read more here.

Russia confirms prisoner exchange negotiations

Russian officials confirmed on Thursday they are negotiating with the United States over a prisoner swap. 

U.S. officials have reportedly proposed exchanging notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. 

A quick recap: Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin was ready to negotiate with the U.S. after the Biden administration reportedly offered the two-for-one swap involving Griner and Whelan. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who has been talking to both sides, predicted Sunday that Whelan and Griner will be freed in a “two-for-two” swap with Moscow. 

What Russia said: Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Ivan Nechayev said at a news briefing that “corresponding competent authorities have been instructed to negotiate the issue” and “are in talks” on the matter, according to Russian news outlet Tass. 

Nechayev also urged reporters and the public “not to speculate on the sensitive issue affecting specific individuals.” 

“We would recommend abandoning futile attempts to put pressure on us and we are calling on them to concentrate on practical work along the available channels,” he said, according to Tass. “We proceed from the fact that the negotiations should take the interests of both sides into account.” 

About Griner and Wheelan: Griner was arrested in Russia in February for bringing cannabis oil cartridges into the country, where marijuana is illegal. She was sentenced to nine years in prison last week. 

Whelan was detained in Russia in 2018 on spying charges he denies and sentenced to 16 years in prison. 

Read the full story here.

ARMY IDENTIFIES RANGER CANDIDATES KILLED IN STORM

The Army has identified the two Ranger candidates killed by a falling tree Tuesday during a training exercise in the north Georgia mountains.  

Staff Sgt. George Taber, 30, and 2nd Lt. Evan Fitzgibbon, 23, died after they were hit by the tree while sheltering from a storm on Yonah Mountain near Dahlonega, Ga., according to an Army statement.  

‘Deeply saddened:’ “We are all deeply saddened by the loss of these two outstanding Soldiers and send our heartfelt condolences to their families,” Maj. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, the commanding general of Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, said in the release. “They are in our thoughts and prayers.” 

What happened? Fitzgibbon and Taber, along with three other Ranger candidates, were struck by the tree around 3:15 p.m. “during a weather-induced training hold.”   

All injured personnel were transported to a local hospital, where Fitzgibbon and Taber were later pronounced dead. 

Yonah Mountain, which sits about 80 miles northeast of Atlanta, is used for training as part of the Army’s grueling, two-month Ranger School.   

About the victims: Taber, a medical sergeant with the 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., enlisted in the Army in March 2017, according to the service. 

Fitzgibbon, who was commissioned in May 2021 after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was assigned to a training unit at Fort Benning. 

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Foreign Policy Research Institute will host a discussion on “Speaker Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip: What It Meant and What Comes Next?” at 12 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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Tags Brittney Griner Christopher Wray FBI raid Mar-a-lago fbi raid Merrick Garland Merrick Garland Paul Whelan Prisoner exchange prisoner swap Russia-Ukraine war
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