Two aides to Donald Trump who toiled in anonymity as employees at his Mar-a-Lago estate return to the national spotlight Thursday as they prepare to enter pleas as co-defendants in the U.S. government’s classified documents case against the former president.
Personal valet Waltine Nauta, 40, and property manager Carlos De Oliveira, 56, were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Shaniek Mills Maynard in Fort Pierce to be arraigned on charges brought in a superseding indictment handed up by a grand jury last month.
Trump, who is now under indictment in three federal and state cases, has been on the campaign trail running for a second term in the White House and was not expected to appear in court Thursday. He entered a not guilty plea last week through a one-page court filing that said he was waiving a personal appearance. He pleaded not guilty to charges in the original 37-count indictment handed up against him in June.
Nauta also has pleaded not guilty to the first round of charges, which include obstruction of justice.
De Oliveira is the most recent co-defendant to be added to the case through the superseding indictment handed up late last month. But as of early Wednesday, the court’s case docket still did not show him being represented by a Florida-based lawyer who is authorized to practice in the Southern District of Florida. Under local court rules, De Oliveira needs one in order to enter a plea before the magistrate.
More than a week ago, De Oliveira made an initial appearance without entering a plea in Miami before Chief U.S. Magistrate Edwin Torres Jr. The judge allowed Washington-based attorney John Irving to temporarily represent De Oliveira, who was released on a $100,000 signature bond.
Government protective order
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday filed a renewed motion for a protective order to ensure the classified papers in the case are tightly controlled and restricted to only those people authorized to view them, such as the lawyers in the case who have received security clearances.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over the case, denied the government’s first proposed order last month, saying more consultation was required with the defense.
But in its filing Wednesday, the prosecution team said the two sides remained apart on two issues. The first is whether Trump could discuss the documents with his lawyers at Mar-a-Lago and at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. The second is whether Nauta may access classified materials.
Prosecutors told the judge their answer is ‘no’ to both ideas, although they did agree to modify the proposed order’s language “so that classified information provided to the defense may be shared with Defendant Trump absent further order of the court.”
The prosecutors argue that all documents should be reviewed in an accredited “SCIF,” or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. When cases are in progress, those secured areas usually are located in a federal courthouse, according to South Florida lawyers who have been involved in other cases governed by the Classified Information Procedures Act.
But Trump’s defense lawyers, according to the government filing, argued the closely controlled conditions pose an “inconvenience,” and “requested that Defendant Trump be permitted to discuss classified information with his counsel in his office at Mar-a-Lago and possibly Bedminster.”
In its response opposing the government’s filing, the defense asked the judge to allow the resurrection of a secure facility that Trump used to review documents while he was president. Florida lawyer Christopher Kise, who authored the response, did not precisely identify the location.
But he denied the government’s assertion that the request is based on “inconvenience,” which he said is false.
“This request is based on the immense practical and logistical hurdles and costs that make it virtually impossible for President Trump to make regular trips to a public facility to discuss classified discovery material with counsel as necessary to conduct a defense consistent with the rights afforded by the Constitution,” Kise wrote.
But prosecutors told the judge that they are unaware “of any case in which a defendant has been permitted to discuss classified information in a private residence, and such exceptional treatment would not be consistent with the law.”
The government noted that neither Mar-a-Lago nor the Bedminster club “has been an authorized location” for the storage, review or discussion of classified materials.
“There is no basis for the defendant’s request that he be given the extraordinary authority to discuss classified information at his residence, and it is particularly striking that he seeks permission to do so in the very location at which he is charged with willfully retaining the documents in this case,” the prosecutors wrote.
As for Nauta’s bid to access sensitive documents, the government said he lacks the “need to know” their contents.
The judge has yet to rule on the proposed protective order.
Focus on surveillance video
The superseding indictment focuses on surveillance footage at the Mar-a-Lago estate, which prosecutors consider as key to their case.
The government alleges in the second indictment that Trump asked for the footage to be deleted after federal investigators visited the estate in June 2022 to recover classified documents the former president took with him after vacating the White House in 2021.
Prosecutors allege Trump requested the deletion of camera footage at Mar-a-Lago in a bid to obstruct federal investigators as they sought the location of records.
“At The Mar-a-Lago Club, Nauta and De Oliveira went to the security guard booth where surveillance video is displayed on monitors, walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the Storage Room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras,” the indictment said.
A few days later, De Oliveira and the club’s IT director entered a small “audio closet” near the club’s ballroom where De Oliveira asked him how long the server kept security footage and said “the boss” wanted the server deleted, the indictment said.
The IT director responded that he didn’t know how to delete the footage and didn’t believe he’d “have the rights to do that,” according to the indictment.
“De Oliveira then insisted … that ‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’” the indictment said.
De Oliveira is charged with helping Nauta move 30 boxes of documents, from Trump’s residence to a storage room.
When the FBI discovered the documents at Mar-a-Lago, the indictment adds, Trump allegedly called De Oliveira and pledged to hire an attorney to represent him.
No electronics in court
Judge Cannon has set a May 20, 2024, trial date. But the news media may have to do without their own electronics while covering it.
On Wednesday, the judge denied a formal request from media lawyers to allow reporters to take electronic devices into the courthouse to help them cover the Nauta and De Oliveira arraignments.