Your Friday Briefing: U.S. to Unseal Trump Warrant

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Good morning. We’re covering moves by the U.S. to unseal the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, Russia’s preparation for possible show trials and Taiwan’s undeterred diplomacy.

U.S. to unseal the Trump warrant

Merrick Garland, the U.S. attorney general, moved to unseal the warrant authorizing the F.B.I. search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s residence in Florida. Garland said he personally approved the decision to seek the warrant.

Garland’s statement followed revelations that Trump received a subpoena for documents this spring, months before the F.B.I. search on Monday. It also came a day after Trump asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was questioned by New York’s attorney general in a civil case about his business practices.

The subpoena suggests the Justice Department tried methods short of a search warrant to account for the material before taking the politically explosive step of sending F.B.I. agents, unannounced, to the former president’s doorstep. Here are live updates.

Details: Officials think the former president improperly took documents with him after leaving office. The Justice Department has provided no information about the precise nature of the material it has been seeking to recover, but it has signaled that the material involved classified information of a sensitive nature.

Analysis: Garland’s decision to make a public appearance came at an extraordinary moment in the department’s 152-year history, as the sprawling investigation of a former president who remains a powerful political force gains momentum. After coming under pressure, Garland said he decided to go public to serve the “public interest.”

Russia readies for likely show trials

Russia has installed cages in a large Mariupol theater, an apparent preparation for show trials of captured Ukrainian soldiers on newly occupied soil. The trials could begin on Aug. 24, Ukrainian Independence Day.

Some fear that the Kremlin plans to use the trappings of legal proceedings to reinforce its narrative about fighters who defended the southern Ukrainian city and spent weeks underneath a steel plant. Ukrainian officials have called for international intervention.

Moscow may also use the trials to deflect responsibility for atrocities Russia committed as its forces laid siege to Mariupol. The Kremlin has a long and brutal history of using such trials to give a veneer of credibility to efforts to silence critics. Here are live updates.

Our Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War

Context: Concerns for prisoners’ safety have only grown since last month, when the Ukrainian authorities accused Moscow of orchestrating an explosion at a Russian prison camp that killed at least 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Other updates:

China’s drills did not deter Taiwan

China’s continuing military drills have not deterred Taiwan, my colleagues write in an analysis.

In fact, the drills have hardened the self-ruled island’s belief in the value of its diplomatic, economic and military maneuverings to stake out a middle ground in the big-power standoff between Beijing and Washington.

Under Tsai Ing-wen, the current president, Taiwanese officials have quietly courted the U.S., making gains with weapon sales and vows of support. They have also turned China’s bluster into a growing international awareness about the island’s plight.

But Taiwan has held back from flaunting that success in an effort to avoid outbursts from China. When Beijing recently sent dozens of fighters across the water that separates China and Taiwan, the Taiwanese military said it would not escalate and took relatively soft countermeasures. Officials offered sober statements and welcomed support from the Group of 7 nations.

What’s next: American officials have considered stockpiling arms in Taiwan out of concern that it might be tough to supply the island in the event of a Chinese military blockade.

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Selling democracy to Africa

The U.S. unveiled a new Africa policy this week that leaned on a familiar strategy, promoting democracy. The challenge will come in selling it to a changing continent.

“Too often, African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations’ progress rather than the authors of their own,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said as he presented the new U.S. approach during a tour that included South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

The U.S. “will not dictate Africa’s choices,” he added, in an apparent response to criticism that America’s stance toward Africa can be patronizing, if not insulting.

“I think, given history, the approach has to be somewhat different, and I would recommend a greater attention to tools that Africans have developed,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s foreign minister.

Along with their own tools and institutions, like the African Union, more African states are wealthier than they were a generation ago, Bob Wekesa, the deputy director of the African Center for the Study of the United States in Johannesburg, said.

“They can afford to say, ‘We can choose who to deal with on certain issues,’” Wekesa said. Those new partnerships include not only U.S. rivals Russia and China, but also emerging powers like Turkey and India. Traditional U.S. allies like Botswana and Zambia are likely to embrace the American strategy, but strongman leaders in Uganda and even Rwanda are likely to be more resistant, he added.

In Kigali yesterday, Blinken said that he had urged the leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to end their support for militias in eastern Congo. He also raised concerns about the detention of the U.S. resident who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda,” Paul Rusesabagina.

But just hours before his meeting with Blinken, President Paul Kagame poured cold water over suggestions that he would be swayed on the Rusesabagina case. “No worries … there are things that just don’t work like that here!!” he said on Twitter. — Lynsey Chutel, Briefings writer based in Johannesburg.

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