HomePoliticsMar-a-Lago worker provided prosecutors with new details in Trump documents case

Mar-a-Lago worker provided prosecutors with new details in Trump documents case

The day before a key meeting last year between a lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and officials seeking the return of classified documents in Trump’s possession, a maintenance worker at the former president’s private club spotted an aide moving boxes to a deposit. , according to a person familiar with the matter.

The maintenance worker offered to help the aide, Walt Nauta, who was Trump’s White House valet, move the boxes and ended up giving him a hand. But the worker had no idea what was inside the boxes, the person familiar with the matter said. The maintenance worker has shared that account with federal prosecutors, the person said.

The worker’s account is potentially significant to prosecutors as they gather details about how Trump handled confidential documents he took with him from the White House upon leaving office and whether he obstructed efforts by the Justice Department and the National Archives to recover them.

Trump was found to have been keeping some of the documents in the storage room where Nauta and the maintenance worker were moving boxes the day before the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official, Jay Bratt, traveled to Mar-a- Lake for the last time. June to seek the return of any government materials held by the former president.

Nauta and the worker moved the boxes into the room before M. Evan Corcoran, a Trump lawyer who was in talks with Bratt, searched the warehouse later that day. Mr. Corcoran called Justice Department officials that night to schedule a meeting for the next day. He believed he did not have a security clearance to transport documents with classified marks, a person briefed on his decision said.

Weeks earlier, the Justice Department had issued a subpoena demanding the return of the documents. Prosecutors have been trying to determine if Trump had moved documents around Mar-a-Lago or if he tried to hide some of them after the subpoena.

Part of his interest is trying to determine if the documents were moved before Mr. Corcoran went through the boxes ahead of a meeting with Justice Department officials seeking to recover them. Prosecutors have been questioning witnesses about the roles of Mr. Nauta and the maintenance worker, whose name has not been released publicly, in the document transfer at the time.

During his trip to Mar-a-Lago on June 3, a Trump lawyer handed Bratt a package of about three dozen documents with classified marks. Mr. Bratt also received a letter, drafted by Mr. Corcoran but signed by another attorney for the former president, certifying that a diligent search had been made for any additional material in response to the subpoena and that none had been found. Mr. Bratt was not given access to search the storage room at this time.

The detail about the moment of Mr. Nauta’s interaction with the maintenance worker was previously reported by The Washington Post. An attorney for Nauta declined to comment. An attorney for the maintenance worker did not publicly discuss the matter.

The New York Times reported this month that prosecutors had obtained the cooperation of a witness who worked at Mar-a-Lago. Among other things, the witness provided investigators with an image of the warehouse.

The investigation, overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, has shown signs of entering its final phases, and this week lawyers for Trump, who is the current favorite for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, requested a meeting to discuss the case. with Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, called the investigation a “targeted and politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump that is plotted to meddle in an election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House.”

He added that prosecutors have “harassed anyone who works, has worked for, or supports President Trump” and maintained that Trump had tried to cooperate with the Justice Department.

Prosecutors have been questioning witnesses about Trump’s possible motive for having the documents.

they have quoted information about Mr. Trump’s business dealings with foreign countries since he became president. And witnesses told them that some aides might have known that Trump still had documents in his possession after the initial 15 boxes of government material, containing classified documents, were turned over to the National Archives in January 2022 after persistent efforts. . through the archives to recover the material, according to people briefed on the matter.

Among the most prominent witnesses in recent months is Mr. Corcoran, who met with Mr. Bratt from the Department of Justice last June and drafted the letter stating that a diligent search had turned up no more documents.

In March, prosecutors successfully transferred Mr. Corcoran’s attorney-client privilege to Mr. Trump under the felony fraud exception, a provision of the law that can be used when investigators have evidence that the services of an attorney may have been used in the commission of a crime.

Judge Beryl A. Howell, then chief judge presiding over grand jury matters in the Federal District Court in Washington, found that prosecutors had shown sufficient evidence that Mr. Trump knowingly misled Mr. Corcoran about the documents he still possessed.

The times previously reported that Justice Howell, writing in a sealed memo, described what he called Mr Trump’s “misdirection” in dealing with the National Archives in 2021 and early last year, saying it was “apparently a dress rehearsal” for how he handled the grand jury subpoena last May, according to a person briefed on the contents of the memo.

In the sealed memorandum setting out her reasoning for ruling that Mr. Corcoran should not be protected by attorney-client privilege, Judge Howell referred to numerous instances of what prosecutors considered evidence of possible obstruction and unlawful possession of court material. government on Mr. Trump’s property. part, said the person informed about its content.

“Other evidence shows that the former president deliberately tried to withhold classified documents when he was not authorized to do so, and knew it,” Ms. Howell wrote, the person said.

Judge Howell acknowledged that the standard for meeting the crime and fraud exception is lower than what would be required to bring charges or win a jury verdict, according to the person familiar with what she wrote. Still, the judge made it clear that she believed the government had reached the threshold, both for obstructing grand jury proceedings and for “unauthorized withholding of national defense information,” the person said.

“The government has presented sufficient evidence that the former president was in possession of tangible documents containing national defense information,” he wrote, adding that they showed that he “failed to deliver those documents to an officer entitled to receive them.”

At another point, Judge Howell addressed Trump’s intent and state of mind, saying the government had also provided sufficient evidence to meet its burden of showing that the former president knowingly withheld the classified documents, the person said.

He also noted that an additional search of Trump’s properties late last year, conducted by experts on Trump’s behalf after pressure from prosecutors, turned up additional documents bearing classified markings in his room at Mar-a-Lago, the agency said. person informed about the document. saying.

“In particular, no excuse is provided as to how the former president could miss classified documents found in his own room at Mar-a-Lago,” Justice Howell wrote, according to the person briefed on the contents of her memo.

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