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, started a bombardment of vitriol and threats towards the person they see as a foe and foil: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
Mr. Garland, a bookish former choose who throughout his unsuccessful Supreme Court nomination in 2016 advised senators that he didn’t have “a political bone” in his physique, responded, as he so typically does, by not responding.
The Justice Department wouldn’t acknowledge the execution of a search warrant at Mr. Trump’s home on Monday, nor would Mr. Garland’s aides affirm his involvement within the resolution and even whether or not he knew concerning the search earlier than it was performed. They declined to touch upon each truth dropped at their consideration. Mr. Garland’s schedule this week is devoid of any public occasions the place he might be questioned by reporters.
Like a captain attempting to maintain from drifting out of the attention 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 with out compromising the integrity of the prosecution or wrecking his legacy.
Toward that finish, the lawyer common is working with a most of stealth and a minimal of public remark, a course much like the one charted by Robert S. Mueller III, the previous particular counsel, throughout his two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia.
That tight-lipped method could keep away from the pitfalls of the comparatively extra public-facing investigations into Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton through the 2016 election by James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director on the time. But it comes with its personal peril — ceding management of the general public narrative to Mr. Trump and his allies, who usually are not constrained by legislation, and even truth, in combating again.
“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,” mentioned Andrew Weissmann, who was certainly one of Mr. Mueller’s prime aides within the particular counsel’s workplace.
“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 interact together with his critics, and even to defend himself towards apparent smears and lies, allowed Mr. Trump to fill the political void with reckless accusations of a witch hunt whereas the particular counsel confined his public statements to dense authorized jargon. Mr. Trump’s broadsides helped outline the Russia investigation as a partisan assault, even though Mr. Mueller was a Republican.
Some of essentially the most senior Justice Department officers making the selections now have deep connections to Mr. Mueller and consider Mr. Comey’s willingness to brazenly focus on his 2016 investigations associated to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump as a gross violation of the Justice Manual, the division’s procedural guidebook.
The Mar-a-Lago search warrant was requested by the Justice Department’s nationwide safety division, whose head, Matthew G. Olsen, served beneath Mr. Mueller when he was the F.B.I. director. In 2019, Mr. Olsen expressed astonishment that the publicity-shy Mr. Mueller was even prepared to look at a information convention saying his resolution to put out Mr. Trump’s conduct however not advocate that he be prosecuted or held accountable for interfering within the Russia investigation.
But folks near Mr. Garland say that whereas his staff respects Mr. Mueller, they’ve realized from his errors. Mr. Garland, regardless of his silence this week, has made some extent of speaking publicly concerning the investigation into the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol on many events — even when it has solely been to elucidate why he can’t speak publicly concerning the investigation.
“I understand that this may not be the answer some are looking for,” he said throughout a speech marking the primary anniversary of the Capitol assault. “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.”
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At the time, that remark was supposed to assuage Democrats who wished him to extra aggressively pursue Mr. Trump. Now it’s Republican leaders, together with Mr. McCarthy, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former Vice President Mike Pence, who’re clamoring for a public clarification of his actions.
Mr. Garland enjoys a big benefit over Mr. Mueller as he heads into battle. The House committee investigating the assault on the Capitol intends to proceed its inquiry into the autumn, and its members plan to make the difficulty of Mr. Trump’s actions a central political theme by the midterm elections and into 2024, offering Mr. Garland with the form of overlaying hearth Mr. Mueller by no means had.
Still, among the lawyer common’s supporters suppose he needs to be doing extra to defend himself.
Even although the Justice Department doesn’t typically discuss circumstances, tips stopping prosecutors from publicly discussing felony investigations embody exceptions to the mum-is-the-word norm. Federal prosecutors generally clarify why they select to not carry fees in high-profile issues whether it is deemed to be within the public curiosity.
“In this era, does the public interest require more?” mentioned Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, who believes the division can higher educate the general public on how the rule of legislation works — with out operating afoul of legal guidelines governing grand jury materials and moral concerns.
“When you have Trump calling this a raid, why not explain how a search warrant works?” she requested. “Could that kind of information come out of the mouth of a public official, rather than a legal analyst on television?”
But Justice Department officers are painfully conscious of the dangers they’re going through in such a politically delicate inquiry, and plenty of are bracing for the investigations Republicans have explicitly threatened to conduct in the event that they take again the House in November’s elections.
As a consequence, Mr. Garland’s aides have been cautious about disclosing even fundamental info, together with the lawyer common’s function in main choices or the deployment of key personnel like Thomas P. Windom, who was tapped last fall to guide the investigation out of the U.S. lawyer’s workplace in Washington.
The F.B.I. search at Mar-a-Lago seems to have been targeted on Mr. Trump’s dealing with of supplies that he took from the White House residence on the finish of his presidency, together with many pages of classified documents.
For now, there isn’t a indication that the search, which was permitted by a federal choose, is said to the division’s widening investigation into the plan to create slates of electors that falsely mentioned Mr. Trump had received in key swing states in 2020.
However, the data gathered by investigators at Mar-a-Lago might be utilized in different circumstances if it proves related, based on Norman L. Eisen, who served as particular counsel to the House Judiciary Committee throughout Mr. Trump’s first impeachment.
Nonetheless, by late Monday, the previous president and his supporters tried to grab the offensive by filling the rhetorical void left by federal investigators, accusing Mr. Garland of perverting justice for political motives.
In the previous, Democrats have been relentless in arguing that Mr. Trump’s conduct as president evoked the actions of dictators in different nations. In an announcement on Monday evening concerning the Mar-a-Lago search, Mr. Trump repurposed that line of criticism.
“It is prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024,” he mentioned within the assertion, including, “Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.”
As typically occurs, that argument shortly grew to become a template for his supporters, particularly these operating for workplace this 12 months. “The weaponization of Biden’s DOJ against political enemies is unprecedented,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Missouri, the Republican nominee for Senate in that state, wrote on Twitter. “This is Banana Republic stuff,” he added.
But nobody went fairly as far as Mr. McCarthy, the House Republican chief, who has sought to rehabilitate his relationship with the previous president after sharply criticizing Mr. Trump’s actions on Jan. 6.
“I’ve seen enough,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization. When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no remark.