Trump valet pleads not guilty in classified documents case; property manager’s arraignment postponed
Aug 9, 2023, 9:02 PM | Updated: Aug 10, 2023, 8:34 am
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — Donald Trump’s valet pleaded not guilty on Thursday to new charges in the case accusing the ex-president of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate while the property manager had his arraignment postponed because he still hasn’t secured a Florida-based attorney.
Trump waived his right to appear alongside valet Walt Nauta and property manager Carlos De Oliveira at the hearing in the federal court in Fort Pierce, and the judge accepted a not guilty plea he made in court papers last week.
De Oliveira’s failure to finalize local counsel marks the latest delay in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in May — a date Trump’s lawyers made clear they want to push back. The judge set a new arraignment date for De Oliveira on Tuesday.
An updated indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith late last month accuses Nauta and De Oliveira of scheming with the Republican former president to try to delete Mar-a-Lago surveillance video sought by investigators. They face charges including conspiracy to obstruct justice in the case stemming from secret government documents found at the Palm Beach club after Trump left the White House in 2021.
Nauta and Trump were charged in June and previously pleaded not guilty, but a new indictment added more charges and De Oliveira to the case. De Oliveira made an initial appearance in court in July but didn’t enter a plea because he hadn’t retained local counsel.
Trump was already charged with dozens of felony counts, and the indictment added new counts of obstruction and willful retention of national defense information.
It’s one of three different criminal cases Trump is facing this year as he tries to reclaim the White House in 2024. He’s also gearing up for a possible fourth indictment, in a case out of Fulton County, Georgia, over alleged efforts by him and his Republican allies to illegally meddle in the 2020 election in that state. The county district attorney, Fani Willis, a Democrat, has signaled that any indictments in the case would likely come this month.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has characterized all the cases against him as politically motivated.
He pleaded not guilty in Washington’s federal court last week in a second case brought by Smith that accuses him of conspiring with allies to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Smith’s team is expected on Thursday to propose a trial date for that case. Trump is already scheduled to stand trial in March in a New York state case stemming from hush money payments made during the 2016 election and in May in the classified documents case.
The updated indictment in the documents case centers on surveillance footage at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump is alleged to have asked for the footage to be deleted after FBI and Justice Department investigators visited in June 2022 to collect classified documents he took with him after leaving the White House.
Video from Mar-a-Lago would ultimately become vital to the government’s case because, prosecutors said, it shows Nauta moving boxes in and out of a storage room — an act alleged to have been done at Trump’s direction and in an effort to hide records not only from investigators but also from Trump’s own lawyers.
Days after the Justice Department sent a subpoena for video footage at Mar-a-Lago to the Trump Organization in June 2022, prosecutors say, De Oliveira asked an information technology staffer how long the server retained footage and told the employee “the boss” wanted it deleted. When the employee said he didn’t believe he was able to do that, De Oliveira insisted the “boss” wanted it done, asking, “What are we going to do?”
Prosecutors allege that De Oliveira later lied in interviews with investigators, falsely claiming that he hadn’t even seen boxes moved into Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House.
De Oliveira’s Washington attorney, John Irving, told reporters after the last hearing that he looks forward to seeing what potential evidence the Justice Department has, and he declined to comment about whether De Oliveira has been asked to testify against Trump.
The new indictment also charges Trump with illegally holding on to a document he’s alleged to have shown off to visitors in New Jersey.
Richer reported from Boston.