Trump valet pleads not guilty in classified documents case

Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira's arraignment has been postponed

Walt Nauta, right, and former president Donald Trump at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Virginia. AP
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Donald Trump's valet, Walt Nauta, appeared before a judge on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to conspiring with the former president to obstruct the investigation into his possession of classified documents at his Florida estate.

But the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, Carlos De Oliveira, was again unable to enter a plea in the case because he still has not secured a Florida-based lawyer, which is required under local court rules.

The magistrate judge also formally accepted the latest not guilty plea of Mr Trump, who told the judge in court papers last week that he is not guilty and waived his right to appear at the hearing in person.

Mr De Oliveira and Mr Nauta appeared in the federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida, on an updated indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith alleging they schemed with the Republican former president to try to delete Mar-a-Lago surveillance video sought by investigators.

Mr Trump, Mr Nauta and Mr De Olivera face charges including conspiracy to obstruct justice in the case stemming from secret government documents found at Mr Trump's Palm Beach club after he left the White House in 2021.

Mr Nauta and Mr Trump were charged in June and previously pleaded not guilty, but a new indictment handed down late last month added more charges and Mr De Oliveira to the case.

Mr De Oliveira made an initial appearance in court in July but did not enter a plea because he had not retained local counsel. The judge on Thursday set a new arraignment date for August 15.

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The former president was already charged with dozens of felony counts, and the indictment added new counts of obstruction and wilful retention of national defence information.

It is one of three different criminal cases Mr Trump is facing this year as he tries to reclaim the White House in 2024.

He is 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 signalled that any indictments in the case would probably come this month.

Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has characterised 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 Mr Smith that accuses him of conspiring with allies to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Mr Smith's team is expected on Thursday to propose a trial date for that case. Mr 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 centres on surveillance footage at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

The former president 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 Mr Nauta moving boxes in and out of a storage room – an act alleged to have been done at Mr Trump’s direction and in an effort to hide records not only from investigators but also from Mr Trump’s own lawyers.

Days after the Justice Department sent a subpoena for video footage at Mar-a-Lago to the Trump Organisation in June 2022, prosecutors say, Mr 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 did not believe he was able to do that, Mr De Oliveira insisted the “boss” wanted it done, asking: “What are we going to do?”

Prosecutors allege that Mr De Oliveira later lied in interviews with investigators, falsely claiming that he had not even seen boxes moved into Mar-a-Lago after Mr Trump left the White House.

Mr De Oliveira's Washington lawyer, 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 Mr De Oliveira has been asked to give evidence against Mr Trump.

The new indictment also charges Mr Trump with illegally holding on to a document he is alleged to have shown off to visitors in New Jersey.

Updated: August 10, 2023, 3:18 PM