Walt Nauta, a personal assistant to former President Donald J. Trump, pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges of conspiring with Mr. Trump to thwart the government’s months-long effort to retrieve a trove of highly sensitive national security documents from the former president after he left . office
Mr. Nauta’s plea was entered for him by his lawyer, Stanley Woodward Jr., at a brief trial in Federal District Court in Miami. Mr. Woodward was accompanied at the hearing by a local Florida attorney who will assist in the case, Sasha Dadan.
A 40-year-old Navy veteran from Guam, Mr. Nauta was indicted by Mr. Trump last month on a 38-count indictment for conspiracy, making false statements and withholding documents. He was not indicted with Mr. Trump on June 13 because Mr. Woodward, who is based in Washington, D.C., had not yet hired a lawyer licensed to practice in Florida.
Ms. Dadan, a former public defender, has limited experience with the federal courts — her name does not appear at all in PACER, the nationwide database of federal cases — but she has handled many local cases in Fort Pierce, Fla. That is where Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing Mr. Trump’s prosecution, is based and where the former president’s trial with Mr. Nauta will eventually take place.
Ms. Dadan has also been active in Republican politics in recent years, running an unsuccessful campaign for the Florida House in 2018.
The indictment against Mr Trump and Mr Nauta was brought by the office of special counsel Jack Smith. It describes how Mr. Nauta repeatedly moved boxes at Mr. Trump’s request in and out of storage at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s private club and residence in Florida, during a critical period: the weeks between the issuance of subpoena in May 2022 demanding the return of all classified documents in Mr. Trump’s possession and a visit to Mar-a-Lago shortly thereafter by federal prosecutors seeking to serve the subpoena and collect any relevant materials.
According to the indictment, Mr. Nauta removed 64 boxes from the warehouse during those weeks but only brought back about 30, with the rest unaccounted for. All of this happened, the indictment says, before one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran, began sorting through the material kept in the warehouse to find any remaining classified material and turn it over to the government. .
Mr. Nauta’s impeachment — a brief and largely ceremonial proceeding — had none of the circus atmosphere that marked Mr. Trump’s own impeachment in Miami. The hearing before Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres lasted about 10 minutes, as Mr. Woodward did little more than enter Mr. Nauta’s plea and request a jury trial.
Mr. Nauta, who served as one of Mr. Trump’s White House valets before going to work for him at Mar-a-Lago, is now in the delicate position of being both the former president’s co-defendant in a high-stakes case federal prosecution. and one of his most intimate employees. Complicating matters, Mr Trump is under a court order not to discuss the facts of the indictment with more than 80 people involved in the case – including Mr Nauta, whose job it is to shadow the former president everywhere he goes and serve his . various whims and needs.
Well before the indictment was filed, the government tried to get Mr. Nauta to turn against Mr. Trump and cooperate with their investigation. As early as last fall, prosecutors in Washington turned up the pressure on Mr. Nauta and Mr. Woodward, saying they were skeptical of Mr. Nauta’s account of moving boxes for Mr. Trump.
Two weeks ago, prosecutors working for Mr. Smith asked Judge Cannon to push back the start of the trial until December 11. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have until Monday to respond to the government’s request and propose their own timetable.
The timing of the trial could be very consequential, especially if Judge Cannon allows it to take place after the 2024 election. If that happens and if Mr. Trump — the current front-runner for the Republican nomination — wins the race, he could have his attorney general to simply dismiss the case in its entirety.
David C. Adams contributed reporting