Garland Becomes Trump’s Target After F.B.I.’s Mar-a-Lago Search

Katie Benner and Glenn Thrush

The F.B.I. had scarcely decamped from Mar-a-Lago when former President Donald J. Trump’s allies, led by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, began a bombardment of vitriol and threats against the man they see as a foe and foil: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

Mr. Garland, a bookish former judge who during his unsuccessful Supreme Court nomination in 2016 told senators that he did not have “a political bone” in his body, responded, as he so often does, by not responding.

The Justice Department would not acknowledge the execution of a search warrant at Mr. Trump’s home on Monday, nor would Mr. Garland’s aides confirm his involvement in the decision or even whether he knew about the search before it was conducted. They declined to comment on every fact brought to their attention. Mr. Garland’s schedule this week is devoid of any public events where he could be questioned by reporters.

Like a captain trying to keep from drifting out of the eye and into the hurricane, Mr. Garland is hoping to navigate the sprawling and multifaceted investigation into the actions of Mr. Trump and his supporters after the 2020 election without compromising the integrity of the prosecution or wrecking his legacy.

Toward that end, the attorney general is operating with a maximum of stealth and a minimum of public comment, a course similar to the one charted by Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, during his two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia.

That tight-lipped approach may avoid the pitfalls of the comparatively more public-facing investigations into Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election by James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director at the time. But it comes with its own peril — ceding control of the public narrative to Mr. Trump and his allies, who are not constrained by law, or even fact, in fighting back.

“Garland has said that he wants his investigation to be apolitical, but nothing he does will stop Trump from distorting the perception of the investigation, given the asymmetrical rules,” said Andrew Weissmann, who was one of Mr. Mueller’s top aides in the special counsel’s office.

“Under Justice Department policy, we were not allowed to take on those criticisms,” Mr. Weissmann added. “Playing by the Justice Department rules sadly but necessarily leaves the playing field open to this abuse.”

Mr. Mueller’s refusal to engage with his critics, or even to defend himself against obvious smears and lies, allowed Mr. Trump to fill the political void with reckless accusations of a witch hunt while the special counsel confined his public statements to dense legal jargon. Mr. Trump’s broadsides helped define the Russia investigation as a partisan attack, despite the fact that Mr. Mueller was a Republican.

Some of the most senior Justice Department officials making the decisions now have deep connections to Mr. Mueller and view Mr. Comey’s willingness to openly discuss his 2016 investigations related to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump as a gross violation of the Justice Manual, the department’s procedural guidebook.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Making a case against Trump. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is laying out a comprehensive narrative of President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Here are the main themes that have emerged so far from eight public hearings:

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

An unsettling narrative. During the first hearing, the committee described in vivid detail what it characterized as an attempted coup orchestrated by the former president that culminated in the assault on the Capitol. At the heart of the gripping story were three main players: Mr. Trump, the Proud Boys and a Capitol Police officer.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Creating election lies. In its second hearing, the panel showed how Mr. Trump ignored aides and advisers as he declared victory prematurely and relentlessly pressed claims of fraud he was told were wrong. “He’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” William P. Barr, the former attorney general, said of Mr. Trump during a videotaped interview.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Pressuring Pence. Mr. Trump continued pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to go along with a plan to overturn his loss even after he was told it was illegal, according to testimony laid out by the panel during the third hearing. The committee showed how Mr. Trump’s actions led his supporters to storm the Capitol, sending Mr. Pence fleeing for his life.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Fake elector plan. The committee used its fourth hearing to detail how Mr. Trump was personally involved in a scheme to put forward fake electors. The panel also presented fresh details on how the former president leaned on state officials to invalidate his defeat, opening them up to violent threats when they refused.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Strong arming the Justice Dept. During the fifth hearing, the panel explored Mr. Trump’s wide-ranging and relentless scheme to misuse the Justice Department to keep himself in power. The panel also presented evidence that at least half a dozen Republican members of Congress sought pre-emptive pardons.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

The surprise hearing. Cassidy Hutchinson, ​​a former White House aide, delivered explosive testimony during the panel’s sixth session, saying that the president knew the crowd on Jan. 6 was armed, but wanted to loosen security. She also painted Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, as disengaged and unwilling to act as rioters approached the Capitol.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Planning a march. Mr. Trump planned to lead a march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but wanted it to look spontaneous, the committee revealed during its seventh hearing. Representative Liz Cheney also said that Mr. Trump had reached out to a witness in the panel’s investigation, and that the committee had informed the Justice Department of the approach.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

A “complete dereliction” of duty. In the final public hearing of the summer, the panel accused the former president of dereliction of duty for failing to act to stop the Capitol assault. The committee documented how, over 187 minutes, Mr. Trump had ignored pleas to call off the mob and then refused to say the election was over even a day after the attack.

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant was requested by the Justice Department’s national security division, whose head, Matthew G. Olsen, served under Mr. Mueller when he was the F.B.I. director. In 2019, Mr. Olsen expressed astonishment that the publicity-shy Mr. Mueller was even willing to appear at a news conference announcing his decision to lay out Mr. Trump’s conduct but not recommend that he be prosecuted or held accountable for interfering in the Russia investigation.

But people close to Mr. Garland say that while his team respects Mr. Mueller, they have learned from his mistakes. Mr. Garland, despite his silence this week, has made a point of talking publicly about the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on many occasions — even if it has only been to explain why he cannot talk publicly about the investigation.

“I understand that this may not be the answer some are looking for,” he said during a speech marking the first anniversary of the Capitol attack. “But we will and we must speak through our work. Anything else jeopardizes the viability of our investigations and the civil liberties of our citizens.”

Source: Read Full Article