Attorney General Merrick Garland drew criticism from former federal prosecutors on Thursday over his handling of the Justice Department’s investigation into classified records seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.
A top Justice Department official told Trump’s lawyers weeks ago that the department believes the former president may still be withholding documents he took from the White House despite the FBI raid of his Florida residence.
DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt reached out to Trump’s attorneys, informing them that the department believes he “has not returned all the documents” and investigators “remain skeptical” if Trump has been fully cooperative with the effort to recover documents he was supposed to hand over to the National Archives, according to The New York Times.
After the August search of Mar-A-Lago, which recovered more than 300 classified documents with some containing sensitive information, federal investigators also found dozens of empty folders marked as containing classified information. The disclosure raised more doubts that Trump returned everything he had in his possession.
Some legal experts called out Garland for slow-walking the probe.
Former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli argued that Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s “weakness” and “ineptitude” is off the charts.
“They are very reluctant to indict a former POTUS which literally jeopardize[s] our security & is violative of the rule of law,” Signorelli wrote on Twitter.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller’s team, shared similar concerns.
“The problem with the DOJ staffing on the MAL case (at least what is visible) is the lead attorney is trained to think of DOJ’s role as negotiating compliance with the law after the person is discovered to be in violation vs indicting the person to promote compliance with the law,” Weissmann tweeted.
Weissman, who led the prosecution of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, added that the same group did not conduct a criminal investigation into Manafort’s Foreign Agents Registration Act violations for eight months, but negotiated with his counsel for eight months to have Manafort file FARA disclosure forms after years of violating that law.
“So that’s why I’m super concerned about the staffing here. Worried it’s too much of a regulator’s mindset. Not what is needed,” Weissmann wrote.
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The DOJ is also the target of intense scrutiny as federal prosecutors are likely to wait until after the midterm elections to announce any potential charges against Trump, sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.
The news alarmed Democratic leaders, who worry that Trump might be running for president again by the time Garland decides whether to prosecute him and others who played a part in the January 6 insurrection.
Two dozen leading Democrats told CNN that Garland may have “missed his moment” to bring criminal charges against top Trump administration officials before getting caught up in the 2024 presidential campaign, which would begin after the midterm elections.
Garland has pushed back on criticism that the DOJ has received for not being aggressive enough in its investigation of Trump and his allies who broke the law. He vowed to charge “everybody who was criminally responsible for interfering with the peaceful transfer of power” during an interview with NBC News.
“It is inevitable in this kind of investigation that there’ll be speculation about what we are doing, who we are investigating, what our theories are,” Garland said. “The reason there is this speculation and uncertainty is that it’s a fundamental tenet of what we do as prosecutors and investigators is to do it outside of the public eye.”
A judge also warned recently that Trump is building a legal shield that could block him from being held accountable for inciting the insurrection with the DOJ’s help, according to the Daily Beast.
The DOJ sided with him last year when Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll brought a defamation case against Trump. The DOJ continues to treat Trump as a federal employee, allowing him to lean into the executive power he once had as president. Trump can use the same strategy to defend himself against the civil lawsuits that try to hold him accountable for sending rioters to attack the Capitol.
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