US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday he had "personally approved" the dramatic raid on Donald Trump's Florida estate and, in a highly unusual move, was requesting the warrant justifying the search be made public.
The country's top prosecutor did not reveal the reason for the unprecedented search of the home of a former US president, and condemned "unfounded attacks" on the FBI and the Justice Department that followed it.
"I personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant," Garland told reporters in his first public statement since Monday's raid. "The department does not take such a decision lightly."
While noting that "ethical obligations" prevented him detailing the basis of the raid, Garland said he had asked a Florida judge to unseal the warrant because Trump had publicly confirmed the search and there is "substantial public interest in this matter."
Trump, who has a copy of the search warrant but has — so far — declined to reveal its contents, has until 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Friday to contest the request that it be unsealed.
Some analysts suggested Garland was effectively daring him to block the motion, given that Trump has insisted the raid was baseless and politically motivated.
Andrew Weissmann, a former Justice Department official, said Garland had "called Trump's bluff" by putting the onus on the former president to object or consent to release of the document.
The Justice Department motion to unseal the warrant noted — and did not dispute — statements by Trump's representatives that the FBI was seeking presidential records and potential classified material.
According to US media, the search related to potential mishandling of classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House in January 2021.
The Washington Post on Thursday cited anonymous sources close to the investigation as saying that classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the papers sought by the FBI agents during the raid.
The newspaper did not clarify if the nuclear weapons involved belonged to the United States or to another country.