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Trump aide Walt Nauta pleads not guilty in classified documents case

MIAMI — Donald Trump’s personal aide, Waltine “Walt” Nauta, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he schemed with his boss to hide classified documents from authorities at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida residence and private club.

The government has accused Nauta, 40, of moving boxes containing top-secret government materials at Mar-a-Lago for the former president and then helping hide the documents from federal officials who demanded them back.

The arraignment in Miami federal court had been postponed from last month because Nauta did not have the necessary local Florida attorney to help represent him. Nauta’s plea was entered by his D.C.-based lawyer, Stan Woodward, and they were joined by his new local lawyer, Sasha Dadan. Trump pleaded not guilty on June 13.

Nauta was present at the brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres, after missing one a week earlier because his flight was repeatedly delayed. He spoke only once in court, answering “Yes, Your Honor” when the judge asked him if he had reviewed the charges against him.

A loyal body man to Trump in the White House who continued to work for the former president in Florida, Nauta was indicted along with Trump on five criminal charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, concealing a document and scheming to conceal a material fact in a federal investigation.

Nauta was also charged with lying to the FBI, and Trump was charged with 31 counts of mishandling national defense information and one count of causing false statements to be made. Nauta faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.

It’s unclear when Trump and Nauta’s trial will begin. Judge Aileen M. Cannon, the federal judge in Florida assigned to oversee the case, set a trial date in August, but that is highly unlikely to happen, given the expected pretrial legal wrangling, including over how classified information will be handled in court. Special counsel Jack Smith has sought a December trial date, and Trump’s lawyers are expected to argue for a different timetable in court filings next week.

Under federal law, cases that use classified materials as evidence require additional pretrial proceedings to ensure that the jury and defense attorneys can view the evidence while protecting the nation’s secrets. Prosecutors said in a filing last month that Trump’s attorneys do not have the required security clearance.

Another hearing is scheduled next week in the case, though Nauta’s lawyers have previously said they will seek a postponement because of unrelated scheduling conflicts.

Dadan is a former public defender whose law practice is centered in Fort Pierce, where the Trump trial is likely to be held, more than 100 miles north of Miami. She still must complete some paperwork to continue serving as local counsel in the Nauta case, Torres said Thursday. Her website lists her main areas of practice as criminal defense, family law, personal injury and traffic tickets, and she does not appear to have experience in national security cases.

Late Wednesday, authorities unsealed additional portions of a search warrant affidavit used to get court approval to search Mar-a-Lago last summer. The search uncovered more than 100 documents and paved the way for Trump’s indictment last month on charges of mishandling national security secrets.

A Trump spokesman said in a statement that the former president “has consistently been in full compliance with the Presidential Records Act, which is the only law that applies to Presidents and their records.” The statement accused the Justice Department of rejecting Trump’s offer of cooperation.

The new version of the affidavit still keeps a number of investigative details secret. But it reveals more about what agents had learned by the time they executed the Aug. 8 search, including specifics of how security camera footage captured Nauta — who is named in the indictment but not the affidavit — moving boxes both before and after he was questioned by the FBI.

Investigators issued a subpoena in June 2022 for security camera footage around a storage room area where Trump kept dozens of boxes, many of which allegedly contained classified documents. The digital footage was turned over to the government in early July of last year, and the affidavit makes clear that the material boosted the investigation.

The affidavit says the footage showed that on May 24, Witness 5 — a person described in the indictment as Nauta — was observed carrying three boxes inside Mar-a-Lago. Two days later, Nauta was interviewed by FBI agents.

At the time, the Justice Department was awaiting a response from Trump’s legal team to a grand jury subpoena, which sought the return to the government of any additional documents with classified markings.

The newly unsealed portion of the affidavit says the surveillance footage shows that four days after the FBI interview, Nauta moved “approximately fifty Bankers boxes” out of a storage room.

On June 2 — just a day before FBI officials were to arrive at Mar-a-Lago to collect documents in response to the subpoena — security camera footage shows Nauta “moving twenty-five to thirty boxes, some of which were brown cardboard boxes and others of which were Bankers boxes,” back to the storage room, a newly unsealed part of the affidavit says.

That is a key distinction for investigators, because it allegedly shows that Nauta, apparently at Trump’s direction, moved more boxes out of the storage room than were brought back.

Barrett reported from Washington.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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