On May 25, when former President Donald J. Trump attended the Saudi-backed LIV golf tournament at his course in Sterling, Virginia, one of his aides was photographed leaning over and dutifully raising the collar of his white sweater custom. of closeness that had become routine for the couple.
The timing of the photo was noteworthy: A day earlier, the aide, Walt Nauta, had been notified by the administration that he was the target of a federal investigation into Mr Trump’s handling of classified documents, suggesting there was allegations against Mr. Nauta. probably.
On Friday, prosecutors unsealed those charges. Mr. Nauta, a 40-year-old Navy veteran, was charged with conspiracy, making false statements and withholding documents as part of Mr Trump’s effort to thwart the administration’s efforts to recover the classified documents Mr Trump had taken with him when he left the White House.
Mr. Nauta’s story is, among other things, a cautionary tale about what loyalty to Mr. Trump can bring. After serving his country in the military and serving as a clerk in the White House, Mr Nauta stayed with Mr Trump as a personal aide – and now faces the prospect of years in federal prison for apparently carried out his wishes.
Until now largely unknown to the public, Mr. Nauta has been spotlighted as a low-ranking but central figure in the conspiracy alleged by prosecutors. Mr. Nauta, who has been on Mr. Trump’s campaign payroll, was part of Mr. Trump’s traveling retinue on a trip to Georgia and North Carolina on Saturday.
The unsealed indictment details how he performs odd jobs for Mr. Trump, moving boxes in and out of a Mar-a-Lago storage unit during a critical period: the weeks between the issuance of a subpoena last year seeking restitution. demanded of all classified documents held by Mr. Trump’s presidential office and a visit to Mar-a-Lago shortly thereafter by federal prosecutors to enforce the subpoena and collect all pertinent materials.
During that time – from May 11, 2022 to June 3, 2022 – Mr. Nauta, on the instructions of Mr. Trump moved boxes of White House materials into or out of a Mar-a-Lago storage unit on at least five occasions, the indictment says.
It says he took a total of 64 boxes from the storage room, but only returned about 30, with the rest unaccounted for. All of this took place, the indictment says, before one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran, began going through the material in the storage room in an attempt to find any remaining classified documents.
The same day prosecutors arrived in Mar-a-Lago to meet with Mr. Corcoran and retrieve the classified material, Mr. Nauta and others loaded several of Trump’s boxes of other items onto planes carrying Trump and his family north. flew. summer,” the indictment says.
Long before the charges were filed in Miami’s Federal District Court on Thursday, authorities had tried to get Mr. Nauta to turn against Mr. Trump and cooperate with their investigation. As far back as last fall, Washington prosecutors put pressure on Mr. Nauta and his attorney, Stanley Woodward Jr.
At about the same time, according to two people familiar with the case, Mr. Woodward met about Mr. Nauta with prosecutors in the documentary investigation, including Jay Bratt, of the Justice Department’s national security division, who led the investigation at the time.
At the meeting, people said, Mr. Bratt tried to persuade Mr. Woodward to let Mr. Nauta cooperate and then brought up that he knew that Mr. Woodward had applied to become a judge of the higher court in Washington. . Mr Trump’s lawyers and advisers believe that Mr Bratt was effectively trying to persuade, even threatening, Mr Woodward to advise his client to help the government – a claim Mr Trump himself later made on social media, albeit somewhat with his facts. wrong.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for special counsel Jack Smith, who now oversees the documents case, has declined to comment on the allegation.
Mr Woodward also declined to comment.
Mr Trump’s allies have said the months-long threat of impeachment took a toll on Mr Nauta, who has been described as having a stoic presence around Mr Trump.
Now that a report has been filed, the pressure on Mr. Nauta has only increased. The charges of obstruction he faces carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, and the indictment details what he did for Mr. Trump that prosecutors believed he was lying about.
For example, the Mar-a-Lago storage unit incidents were not the first time that Mr. Nauta apparently moved boxes under Mr. Trump’s direction. The indictment also references earlier episodes that took place over months when National Archives and Records Administration officials tried to recover about two dozen boxes of materials they believed Mr. Trump had taken with him when he left the White House.
Between November 2021 and January 2022, Mr. Trump told Mr. Nauta and another Mar-a-Lago employee to take boxes to his residence on the compound so he could go through them, apparently before returning them, according to the indictment . Mr. Nauta and the other employee updated each other via text message on Mr. Trump’s progress with the boxes.
A December 2021 episode suggests that Mr. Nauta could have known the boxes contained sensitive material.
That month, the lawsuit says, he took a photo of boxes that had overturned, causing the contents to spill all over the floor of the storage unit, and sent the photo to the other employee. Among the papers lying on the floor was a secret document related to the “Five Eyes” program, an agreement between the intelligence agencies in the United States, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
On January 13, 2022, Mr. Nauta texted the other Trump aide, saying, “He’s following the boxes, more to come today whether he wants to go through more today or tomorrow.” Four days later, Mr. Nauta and the other employee packed boxes in Mr. Nauta’s car and took them to a commercial truck in front of the National Archives for collection, the indictment said.
Prosecutors charged Mr. Nauta with making several false or misleading statements about many of these during an interview with the FBI on May 26, 2022.
Mr. Nauta falsely told investigators that he was “unaware that Trump’s boxes were taken to Trump’s residence for his review,” the indictment said. Mr. Nauta also lied, the indictment said, by claiming he had no idea how the boxes he and the other employee took from Mr. Trump’s residence to the truck outside got to the residence in the first place.
Born in the U.S. territory of Guam, Mr. Nauta enlisted in the Navy in 2001. During the Trump presidency, he eventually worked in the White House, first in the mess, which is run by the Navy. Though very private, Mr. Nauta quickly became a genial presence that showed a military man’s sensibility to work for the Commander-in-Chief, and the two men developed a rapport.
According to a former colleague, his colleagues found him efficient and apolitical. He was able to anticipate Mr Trump’s needs, said the former colleague — an important part of dealing with the former president — but was also aware of his eccentricities.
Mr. Trump trusted and liked him immensely, according to his former colleagues. Mr. Nauta turned from the mess into a valet who was around Mr. Trump more often, bringing him Diet Coke, making sure the President’s suit was ironed, and carrying hairspray or hand sanitizer to meet Mr. Trump’s needs comply.
He retired from the Navy after Mr. Trump left the White House and went to work for the former president at Mar-a-Lago, one of the few constants in Mr. Trump’s shrunken job at the time.
Former aides to Mr. Trump who closely observed Mr. Nauta said that, unlike many who have grown close to Mr. Trump over the years, Mr. Nauta did not seem to have a “sideline” to make money or become famous for his access to the former president.
He is now in a position that several others have: attached to Mr. Trump because he is targeted by prosecutors.
Others who have been there include Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, and Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization.
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Weisselberg both pleaded guilty to charges in cases where no charges were filed against Mr. Trump. Both were in prison. And in both cases, Mr. Trump and his allies maintained that the men’s actions were independent of Mr. Trump, an idea that Mr. Cohen has aggressively protested.