How cable news covered Merrick Garland's press appearance: 'I think this was brilliant'

Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic

Your move, Donald Trump.

That was the gist of cable-news network coverage of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s brief statement Thursday, in which he addressed the FBI search of the former president’s Florida home on Monday.

Garland said during his appearance before media that he moved to unseal the search warrant used in the search of Mar-a-Lago.

Game on.

“I think this was a brilliant press conference and the right thing to do in this extraordinary circumstance,” Neal Katyal, a legal analyst on MSNBC, said.

Joe Concha, media and political columnist for The Hill and a guest on Fox News, disagreed, and quickly moved to pull the White House into the fray.

“I think the appearance actually just made things worse for the White House,” Concha said, later adding, “It was a nothing burger basically with no bun.”

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That’s absurd, of course — moving to unseal the search warrant is a big deal indeed. And Katyal, like others, pointed out that Garland’s action puts the onus on Trump and his attorneys and supporters.

“This was a bit of a put up or shut up for the Donald Trump team,” Evan Perez, CNN’s senior justice correspondent, said.

“They’ve had the field for a couple of days, making accusations. And now it’s up to them if they want to go to a judge and try to get the judge to say no, your honor, you can’t release these documents that the justice department says it’s in the public interest for us to see.”

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Kaitlan Collins, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, echoed Perez.

“For about 72 hours now Trump and his attorneys and his allies have driven the narrative around this search warrant,” she said, “framing it in their way and in their manner and calling it unfair and politically motivated. And now the justice department is basically daring them to explain why they don’t want these documents released.”

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Katyal went even further down that road.

“It’s the right thing to do but it’s a key chess move,” Katyal said, “because for the last 48 hours Donald Trump has been blathering on along with the Republican party saying this search is abusive and so on, and we’ve all been saying look, you’ve got the warrant, release it to us. And now Garland has figured out a separate way to have that released.”

Speculating on what Garland would say

The press conference caught media off-guard — it was announced about an hour before it was scheduled to happen, and then delayed more than a half-hour. This opened up an ocean of speculation about what Garland might say.

“It better be good,” Martha MacCallum said on Fox News.

“Every word will count,” Bret Baier said, also on Fox News. “And every word that is said will make a difference in how this is covered going forward.”

It certainly advances the story, as the wait for whether Trump will attempt to block the unsealing of the warrant begins. If Lara Trump’s appearance on Fox News was any indication, the Trump team will continue with their tactics, even as the decision is made, hyperbolically portraying the former president as a political martyr.

And Fox News will continue to be Fox News.

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Lara Trump railed against the search of Mar-a-Lago on Fox News

“I’ve had so many people reach out to me over the past several days saying we can’t sleep, our stomachs are in knots, because this is not something … that you suppose is going to ever happen in America,” Lara Trump said, “and yet here we are and we’re just supposed to just accept what the A.G. came out and said. We got no info.”

Later she told MacCallum that the search is “something we expect to see in a third-world country.”

“Well, you’re not alone in that feeling, that’s for sure,” MacCallum said.


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Of course, Garland’s brief appearance will do nothing to quell rampant speculation, at least until a judge rules on unsealing the warrant. Where this leads is an ongoing story, and a big one.

“We’re in uncharted territory here,” Baier said at one point.

I’m not sure about that. With Lara Trump’s reaction, it seems like we’ve been here before plenty of times, and still can’t escape.

Reach Goodykoontz at Facebook: Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.

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