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Longtime Trump aide seen moving boxes at Mar-a-Lago before and after Department of Justice subpoena

Trump is believed to have improperly kept national security records after leaving the White House while obstructing the government’s efforts to get them back
Last Updated : 13 October 2022, 05:06 IST

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A long-serving aide to former President Donald Trump was captured on security camera footage moving boxes out of a storage room at Trump’s private club and residence in Florida both before and after the Justice Department issued a subpoena in May demanding the return of all classified documents the former president had in his possession, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The footage showed Walt Nauta, a former military aide who worked in the White House and left with Trump to work at his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, moving boxes at different points from the storage room that later became a focus of the Justice Department’s investigation, according to the people briefed on the matter. The inquiry has centered on whether Trump improperly kept national security records after he left the White House and obstructed the government’s repeated efforts to get them back.

As part of its investigation, the Justice Department has interviewed Nauta on several occasions, starting from before the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 and carted off a trove of more than 11,000 documents, including about 100 that bore classification markings, according to one of the people. Nauta has answered questions from federal investigators, though he is not formally cooperating with the government’s investigation of Trump’s handling of the documents.

His lawyer, Stanley Woodward Jr., declined to comment. Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for Trump, accused the Biden administration of “colluding with the media through targeted leaks in an overt and illegal act of intimidation and tampering.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Trump directed an employee who had been interviewed by the FBI to move boxes at Mar-a-Lago. It is not clear whether that employee was Nauta, and a person familiar with the matter and with Trump’s orbit said it could be a different staff member.

A top Justice Department official told Trump’s lawyers in recent weeks that the department believed he had still not returned all the documents.

The National Archives, the federal agency that oversees presidential records, spent much of 2021 attempting to retrieve boxes of records that its officials had been told were in the White House residence at the end of the Trump presidency.

Some of Trump’s advisers tried to facilitate their return; one lawyer for Trump, Alex Cannon, told Trump to ship the boxes back as they were, instead of going through them, and that the archivists would return whatever was personal property, two people briefed on the matter said. Cannon told Trump’s aides not to go through the boxes because it was unclear what was in them, and the materials might require security clearances. Trump instead went through the boxes himself in December, according to a person familiar with the move, and the archives sent people to retrieve 15 of them a month later. When they got the boxes, they found 184 classified documents, prompting alarm.

The Justice Department subsequently began an investigation and quickly concluded that Trump might not have returned all the material in his possession when he turned over the 15 boxes in January.

In a court filing in August, prosecutors said they had evidence that “government records were likely concealed and removed” from the Mar-a-Lago storage room even after the Justice Department had sent Trump’s office a subpoena for any remaining documents bearing classified markings. That led prosecutors to conclude that “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the government filing said.

The Justice Department’s effort to recover documents from Trump began in May, after the FBI examined the 15 boxes of records the National Archives retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January.

On May 11, lawyers for Justice Department obtained a subpoena to retrieve all materials marked as classified that had not already been turned over by the former president. In response to the subpoena, Trump’s team presented FBI agents on June 3 with 38 additional documents bearing classified markings. Among them were 17 labeled top secret.

But one of Trump’s lawyers present during that visit “explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained,” the Justice Department filing in August said. Trump’s team also provided the department’s national security division in June with a written statement on behalf of his office by one of Trump’s lawyers who was serving as the formal “custodian” of the files. While that person’s name has been redacted in government filings, multiple people have identified her as Christina Bobb.

The Justice Department subsequently obtained a subpoena for security camera footage from inside Mar-a-Lago, and documents filed in the case disclosed that the department had been working with “multiple civilian witnesses” before it sought the search warrant used to carry out the search of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8.

During the search, FBI agents found three classified documents in desks in Trump’s office, with more than 100 documents in 13 boxes or containers with classification markings in the residence, including some at the most restrictive levels, according to the Justice Department filing in August.

The investigation into Trump’s handling of the documents is just one of an array of legal problems he faces. The Justice Department is separately investigating the efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the events that led to the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. The district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, is also conducting a broad inquiry into attempts by Trump and several of his allies to overturn Trump’s defeat in the election.

On Thursday, the House committee investigating Jan. 6 is scheduled to hold what is likely to be its last full-scale public hearing. The panel has said it plans to disclose new information about Trump’s state of mind in the chaotic postelection period and his central role in the effort to remain in power despite his loss to Joe Biden.

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Published 13 October 2022, 04:29 IST

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