WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Former US President Donald Trump said on social media on Friday (Aug 12) that the “nuclear weapons issue is a hoax”, responding to a Washington Post report that FBI agents sought nuclear documents in a search of his Florida home earlier this week.
It was not clear if such documents were recovered at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, the Post said.
The US Justice Department asked a judge on Thursday to make public the warrant that authorised the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, after Trump, a Republican, portrayed it as political retribution.
On Friday morning, Trump said on his Truth Social startup social media platform that the “nuclear weapons issue is a hoax”, equating it to controversies involving Russia, an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his two impeachments.
“Same sleazy people involved,” he said.
Trump did not offer any evidence to corroborate his “hoax” claim or his claim that evidence may have been planted.
“Why wouldn’t the FBI allow the inspection of areas at Mar-a-Lago with our lawyer’s, or others, present?” he also said on Truth Social.
The search was part of an investigation into whether Trump illegally removed records from the White House as he left office in January 2021, some of which the Justice Department believes are classified.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, the top law enforcement officer and an appointee of Democratic President Joe Biden, told a news conference that he had personally approved the search.
The Justice Department also seeks to make public a redacted receipt of the items seized.
"The department does not take such a decision lightly. Where possible, it is standard practice to seek less intrusive means as an alternative to a search, and to narrowly scope any search that is undertaken," Garland said.
His decision to publicly confirm the search was highly unusual. US law enforcement officials typically do not discuss ongoing investigations in order to protect people's rights.
In this case, Trump himself announced the search in a Monday night statement.
Garland said the Justice Department made the request to make public the warrant "in light of the former president's public confirmation of the search, the surrounding circumstances and the substantial public interest in this matter."
A source familiar with the matter said the FBI retrieved about 10 boxes from Trump's property during the search.
Trump was not in Florida at the time of the search.
Late on Thursday, Trump called for the immediate release of documents related to the search.
"Not only will I not oppose the release of documents related to the unAmerican, unwarranted, and unnecessary raid and break-in of my home in Palm Beach, Florida, Mar-a-Lago, I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents, even though they have been drawn up by radical left Democrats and possible future political opponents, who have a strong and powerful vested interest in attacking me, much as they have done for the last 6 years," he said on his Truth Social platform.
The government has until 3pm on Friday (3am Saturday Singapore time) to let the court know whether Trump's attorneys will object to unsealing the warrant.
The case is before US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who reviewed the warrant to ensure the Justice Department had sufficient probable cause for the search.
While seeking to unseal the warrant, the Justice Department has not asked the judge to unseal the sworn statement in support of the warrant, the contents of which could potentially include classified information.
Two of Trump's attorneys, Evan Corcoran and John Rowley, did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement earlier on his Truth social network, Trump said: "My attorneys and representatives were cooperating fully, and very good relationships had been established. The government could have had whatever they wanted, if we had it."
Locked storage room
The unprecedented search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations Trump is facing from his time in office and in private business, including a separate one by the Justice Department into a failed bid by Trump's allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phony slates of electors.
The investigation into Trump's removal of records started this year, after the National Archives made a referral to the department.
Former Archivist David Ferriero has previously said that Trump returned 15 boxes to the government in January 2022.
The archives later discovered some of the items were "marked as classified national security information."
A couple of months before the search, FBI agents visited Trump's property to investigate boxes in a locked storage room, according to a person familiar with the visit.
The agents and Corcoran spent a day reviewing materials, the source said. A second source who had been briefed on the matter told Reuters the Justice Department also has surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago in its possession.
Garland's Justice Department has faced fierce criticism and online threats since Monday's search.
Trump supporters and some of his fellow Republicans in Washington accuse Democrats of weaponising the federal bureaucracy to target Trump.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday, an armed man suspected of trying to breach the FBI building died following an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers, an Ohio State Highway Patrol official said.
Garland condemned the threats and attacks against the FBI and Justice Department. "I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked," he said.
Some Democrats have criticised Garland for being overly cautious in investigating Trump over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.