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Significant Mar-a-Lago witness would be a former White House employee

A key witness in the ongoing Justice Department and FBI investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents is a Navy veteran who followed the former president to Florida after serving as a clerk at Trump’s White House. served, people familiar with the case said.

Walt Nauta, according to these people, is the relevant witness who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The 39-year-old worked as a clerk for Trump in the Oval Office suite, according to former White House staffers, and served as a personal assistant at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s residence and private club in Florida.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that a an unnamed Trump aide had provided crucial evidence to investigators — telling them he had moved boxes at the request of the former president at a time when the government was denying the return of classified material, including some highly sensitive items, from Mar-a -Lago searched.

The witness account was corroborated by CCTV footage, people familiar with the case said, and gave investigators key evidence of Trump’s conduct in investigating possible crimes, including obstruction, destruction of government documents or mishandling of classified information.

Witness told FBI about moving Mar-a-Lago boxes on Trump’s orders

Hours after The Post’s report was published, the New York Times reported that surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago showed Nauta moving boxes.

A lawyer for Nauta declined to comment on The Post on Thursday, and Nauta did not respond to a call for comment.

The information Nauta provided to FBI agents and the images described to The Post, provides the most direct account yet of Trump’s actions and instructions in the run-up to the FBI’s August 8 search of his Florida property.

The search came after the Justice Department demanded the return of all of Mar-a-Lago’s classified documents. Trump aides handed over 38 documents in June in response to a grand jury subpoena, but FBI agents found 103 more when they returned to Mar-a-Lago in August.

When FBI agents first interviewed Nauta, he denied any role in moving boxes or sensitive documents, people familiar with the situation said in interviews before Nauta’s name went public. But as investigators gathered more evidence, they questioned him a second time, and he told a very different story — that Trump ordered him to move the boxes, these people said.

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich declined to answer specific questions about those claims on Wednesday, instead accusing the Biden administration of “arming law enforcement and fabricating a Document Hoax in a desperate attempt to maintain political power.”

Asked about Nauta’s account on Thursday, Budowich questioned the legality of the court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago and accused the Biden administration of “conspiring with the media through targeted leaks in an overt and illegal act of harassment.” and manipulation.”

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Those familiar with the Mar-a-Lago investigation said agents have gathered evidence showing Trump told people to move boxes to his residence after his advisers received the subpoena. That description of the events was confirmed by the surveillance camera footage showing people moving the boxes, the people said.

Separately, FBI agents last week interviewed another key figure in the documents case: Christina Bobb, an attorney who signed a June letter stating that a “diligent investigation” had been conducted into classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and that all such documents were returned to the government.

Bobb, whose FBI interview was first reported by NBC News, told agents she signed the letter at the request of other attorneys and was not aware of the details of the search, said a person familiar with the matter. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to make private conversations public, said: Bobb told the FBI she was skeptical about signing the letter and insisted on adding a disclaimer clause stating that it was based on information provided to her by others.

Bobb has told other Trump advisers that she did nothing wrong and acted on what she was told by Trump attorney Evan Corcoran, who handled the document search in response to the subpoena.

A person familiar with Bobb’s account said she was called by Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn a day before the June 3 meeting with the Justice Department and asked to attend the session with Corcoran, whom she had never met. . The person, who also spoke on condition of anonymity in order to pass on Bobb’s account, said Bobb told agents Corcoran that the storage area had been thoroughly searched – and indicated that it was the only part of the club that needed to be searched.

Corcoran’s search for classified documents in response to the subpoena did not include the president’s private residence, one person with knowledge of the situation said.

A person who was aware of the move of the boxes in Mar-a-Lago said that after they were taken to the residence, Trump went through at least some of them and removed some documents. At least some of the boxes were later returned to the storage room, this person said, while some of the documents remained in the home. The Post was unable to confirm the specific contents of the boxes reportedly examined by Trump.

Among the documents seized: Material on the nuclear capabilities of a foreign country

Nauta is originally from Guam, according to public records. He enlisted in the Navy and eventually became a chef in the mess of the White House, a small Navy-run eatery in the basement of the West Wing. In 2013, he entered a military culinary competition, part of a team representing “presidential food service.”

Not long after Trump took office, Nauta left the mess to become one of Trump’s servants. He spent part of his workday in a small passageway connecting the West Wing to a private dining room. From there, he had access to a small refrigerator stocked with Diet Coke, which he brought to the president in the Oval Office when Trump pressed a call button on his desk, said a former White House staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss activities in the White House.

Nauta often served as a gofer of sorts, fetching the things the president might need throughout the day and tidying up the room, said the former employee. When Trump left the Oval Office for the night, it was Nauta who brought his coat. Their daily closeness meant the two developed a close professional relationship, and Trump “trusted him completely,” this person added.

As part of his valet responsibilities, Nauta also moved boxes of papers for Trump between the Oval Office and a private study, as well as a private dining room that Trump used as an informal office, the former staffer said. Trump routinely took classified documents into that dining room, mixed with newspaper articles and other papers, according to multiple former White House officials who have said Trump never strictly followed rules and customs for handling sensitive government material.

In the Trump White House, classified documents are routinely mishandled, former aides say:

The boxes that Nauta is said to have moved in Mar-a-Lago at Trump’s direction also contain classified documents mixed with newspaper articles, according to people familiar with the case.

The former employee described Nauta as friendly and pleasant to visitors to Oval Office. In September 2020, Nauta was promoted to senior chief petty officer, an important career step. When Trump left the White House, Nauta decided to join him in Mar-a-Lago.

Campaign finance data shows that in 2021 Nauta was placed on the payroll of a Trump political action committee, Save America. .

Lori Rozsa in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Alice Crites and Rosalind S. Helderman in Washington contributed to this report.

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