HomePoliticsMar-a-Lago employee provided prosecutors with new details in the Trump Documents case

Mar-a-Lago employee provided prosecutors with new details in the Trump Documents case

Former president and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire on April 27, 2023. (Sophie Park/The New York Times)

The day before a key meeting last year between an attorney for former President Donald Trump and officials seeking to recover classified documents in Trump’s possession, a maintenance worker at the former president’s private club saw an aide move boxes into a storage unit, according to one person. who is familiar with the case.

The maintenance worker offered to help the aide — Walt Nauta, Trump’s valet at the White House — move the boxes and eventually lend a hand. But the worker had no idea what was in the boxes, said the person familiar with the case. The maintenance worker shared that account with federal prosecutors, the person said.

The employee’s account is potentially important to prosecutors, as they gather details about how Trump handled sensitive documents he took with him when he left the White House and whether he supported efforts by the Justice Department and National Archives to recover them. impeded to get.

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Trump was found to have kept some documents in the storage room where Nauta and the maintenance worker were moving boxes the day before Justice Department counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt traveled to Florida’s Mar-a-Lago last June to find the return of all government materials in the possession of the former president.

Nauta and the employee brought the boxes to the room before the storage unit was searched that same day by M. Evan Corcoran, a Trump attorney who was in talks with Bratt. Corcoran called Justice Department officials that evening to set up a meeting for the following day. He believed he did not have security clearance to carry documents with secret markings, a person familiar with his decision said.

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

Part of their interest is trying to determine if documents were moved before Corcoran himself went through the boxes for a meeting with Justice Department officials who wanted to retrieve them. Prosecutors have questioned witnesses about the role of Nauta and the maintenance worker, whose names have not been made public, in moving documents around that time.

During his trip to Mar-a-Lago on June 3, Bratt obtained a package of about three dozen documents with secret markings from a Trump attorney. Bratt also obtained a letter, drafted by Corcoran but signed by another attorney for the former president, confirming that additional material had been carefully searched in response to the subpoena and none had been found. Bratt was not allowed access to search the storage space at the time.

Two months later, FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago with a warrant and found more than 100 additional classified documents, including in the storage room and in Trump’s office.

The detail about the timing of Nauta’s interaction with the maintenance worker was previously reported by The Washington Post. A lawyer for Nauta declined to comment. A lawyer for the maintenance worker would not discuss the matter publicly.

The New York Times reported this month that prosecutors had obtained cooperation from a witness who worked at Mar-a-Lago. The witness provided the investigators with, among other things, a photo of the salvage.

The investigation, overseen by Special Counsel Jack Smith, is showing signs of entering its final phase, and this week lawyers for Trump — who is the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — called for a meeting to discuss the case. discuss with Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, called the investigation a “targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump designed to interfere with elections and prevent the American people from sending him back to the White House.”

He added that prosecutors have been harassing “anyone and anyone who works, has worked, or supports President Trump,” alleging that Trump had attempted to cooperate with the Justice Department.

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

They have subpoenaed information about Trump’s foreign business dealings since he became president. And witnesses have told them that some aides may have known Trump still had documents in his possession after the first 15 boxes of government materials — found to contain classified documents — were turned over to the National Archives in January 2022 after the archives’ continued efforts to collect the material, according to people informed.

One of the most prominent witnesses in recent months was Corcoran, who met with Justice Department Bratt last June and drafted the letter saying a diligent search turned up no further documents.

In March, prosecutors successfully breached Corcoran’s attorney-client privilege with Trump under the crime fraud exception, a provision of 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 Howell, then the chief justice presiding over grand jury cases in Washington’s U.S. District Court, found prosecutors had provided sufficient evidence that Trump had knowingly misled Corcoran about what documents he still possessed.

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

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In the sealed memo outlining her reasoning for deciding that Corcoran should not be protected by attorney-client privilege, Howell cited numerous examples of what prosecutors considered evidence of Trump’s possible obstruction and illegal possession of government materials. said about the content.

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

Howell acknowledged that the standard to meet the crime-fraud exception is lower than what would be necessary to press 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 for both obstructing the grand jury’s proceedings and for “unauthorized retention of national defense information,” the person said.

“The administration has provided sufficient evidence that the former president possessed tangible documents containing national defense information,” she wrote, adding that they showed that he “did not deliver those documents to an officer entitled to receive them.”

At another point, Howell addressed Trump’s intent and state of mind, saying the administration had also provided enough evidence to show the former president deliberately withheld the classified documents, the person said.

She also noted that a further search of Trump properties late last year, conducted by experts on Trump’s behalf after pressure from prosecutors, turned up additional documents with secret markings in his Mar-a-Lago bedroom, the person in charge of the document said. informed.

“Notably, no excuse is given for how the former president could have missed the secret-marked documents found in his own bedroom at Mar-a-Lago,” Howell wrote, according to the person who knew of the contents of her memo.

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