How Trump’s Expected 2024 Announcement Could Affect Justice Dept. Inquiries

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has long said that evidence — not politics or external pressure — will determine the course of two Justice Department investigations into former President Donald J. Trump, but Mr. Trump’s expected announcement for the presidency complicates that calculus.

The inquiry into Mr. Trump’s decision to retain sensitive documents at his residence in Florida, unfolding more quickly than the concurrent investigation into his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, is almost certain to be overtaken by Mr. Trump’s political timeline.

In the short term, Mr. Trump’s expected announcement on Tuesday is likely to have a minimal effect on both investigations.

The window for the department’s unwritten policy of avoiding active prosecutorial activity, such as issuing new subpoenas or search warrants 60 days before any election, closed on Election Day. The Senate runoff in Georgia next month is not expected to further delay any such action, although the department is likely to avoid dealing with any element that involves evidence or people in that state until the election is decided, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

The longer-term implications are less clear. For the past several months, the department has been in a protracted tug of war with Mr. Trump’s legal team over the cache of documents seized in August at his Florida residence and resort.

Ultimately, this is a fight that Mr. Trump, who defied a subpoena to return documents to the National Archives in May, chose to pick. Mr. Garland, whose main objective in taking over the department was to restore confidence in the rule of law after four chaotic years, has said he had no choice but to respond to Mr. Trump’s refusal.

Beyond the legal issues his lawyers have raised in court, Mr. Trump’s strategy from the start has been to drag the process as deep into the election cycle as possible, so he can claim the entire effort is a witch hunt geared at destroying his political comeback. (One longtime Trump adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the campaign would likely make the investigation a central element of his political and fund-raising efforts.)

By contrast, Mr. Garland and his team have moved as quickly as they could on the Mar-a-Lago inquiry in hopes of deciding whether to prosecute the former president before the election kicks into high gear.

But they have never been under any illusions that was entirely possible. When Mr. Garland has been asked about that dynamic, he has reiterated that his prosecutors would pursue the investigations without “fear or favor.” Moreover, many other elements of the investigation, beyond Mr. Trump’s political actions, are out of Mr. Garland’s control.

The department is still awaiting the final decision of an independent arbiter appointed to rule on Mr. Trump’s privilege claims, and prosecutors are still waiting for the intelligence community’s assessment of the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago, which will determine the potential damage inflicted on national security while serving as a source of vital evidence to prosecutors.

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