Will Walt Nauta Flip? Trump Keeps Valet Close as Question Hovers over the Case.

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
Waltine “Walt” Nauta, right, stands near former president Donald Trump as he greets supporters before the Georgia Republican Party’s state convention on Saturday in Columbus, Ga. The personal aide is a co-defendant in the federal obstruction case that Trump is facing.

The night before pleading not guilty to federal charges that he broke the law dozens of times by keeping and concealing sensitive government documents in his Florida home, Donald Trump sat down to dinner at his Miami Doral golf resort with his top lawyers, influential advisers – and his alleged co-conspirator.

Waltine “Walt” Nauta wasn’t there serving the former president, or escorting famous guests to his table before fading into the background as he has at times in the past, people familiar with the dinner said.

This time, the personal aide, who was charged with conspiring with Trump to hide classified documents from the government, dined at the club’s swanky steakhouse, BLT Prime, as a guest of the former president. Joining them around the table was a large group that included Trump’s political advisers, his lawyer Christopher Kise, Nauta’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, and right-wing media figure Tom Fitton. Nauta was quiet throughout the dinner, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

Nauta’s seat at the table with the country’s 45th president has come at a steep cost.

The 40-year-old body man from Guam now faces 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him. Sporting a wide scarlet tie a few shades deeper than his boss’s candy red one, Nauta, once a Navy sailor, made his first appearance in a Miami federal courthouse Tuesday to face charges that he obstructed justice, withheld and concealed a document from the government, and lied to FBI agents.

A key question hovering over the case now is whether Nauta will cooperate with prosecutors against Trump in hopes of a lesser sentence.

Nauta – who spent Tuesday bizarrely toggling between the roles of co-defendant, equal under the law to Trump, and dutiful “body man,” subservient to the former president – has showed no signs that his loyalty to Trump is waning.

Trump’s lawyers and advisers do not see Nauta as a threat to turn, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the criminal case.

Nauta was with Trump on Friday in New Jersey as news broke that he had been jointly indicted with the former president and traveled with Trump throughout Monday and Tuesday, advisers said, next to him both at political events and at the courtroom defendants’ table.

Woodward, declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Trump.

According to the indictment, Nauta helped bring boxes to Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago for his review before Trump returned 15 boxes of documents to the National Archives in January 2022. When interviewed by the FBI in May 2022, however, prosecutors allege Nauta falsely said he had no knowledge of the boxes being taken to Trump’s suite.

He then could be seen on surveillance video removing 64 boxes from the club’s ground floor storage room after Trump received a grand jury subpoena seeking classified records in May 2022. According to the indictment, he was spotted returning only 30 boxes to the room, just before a lawyer for Trump searched the room for documents to turn over to the government in response to the subpoena.

Trump and Nauta spoke repeatedly by phone before Nauta moved the boxes, the indictment alleges. The indictment does not detail what the two discussed. If Nauta chose to cooperate, he could presumably explain what Trump told him on those calls – and offer evidence about whether Trump instructed him to lie to the FBI.

People familiar with the case say that while Nauta spoke more than once with federal investigators, the conversations turned contentious last year when a senior Justice Department lawyer suggested the valet was in legal trouble for some of his statements. Nauta’s lawyers reacted angrily to that suggestion and the relationship never recovered.

Nauta retained Woodward and his partner Stanley Brand to represent him after another lawyer accompanied him to his initial FBI interview in which prosecutors now allege he lied, the people said.

Prosecutors often agree to seek leniency for less culpable co-conspirators if they cooperate, but they might be hard pressed to establish Nauta’s credibility as a government witness given that they allege he has already lied to the FBI.

Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official, said that Nauta could be a powerful witness for the government – but only if he testified “truthfully and completely.”

“I’ve had many cases where somebody did not tell the truth, perhaps to the FBI when first questioned – and then when reality finally hit, they did tell the truth,” Rosenberg added. “To be a valuable and credible witness, that person must explain to the jury that they lied, why they lied and why they are not lying now.”

Those who know him find it implausible that Nauta will turn on Trump or relinquish the perch as the former president’s right hand man – a job that those close to Nauta have described as a source of prestige and pride.

Nauta spent 20 years in the Navy and met Trump while assigned to the White House mess hall before he became a military valet serving Trump in the Oval Office. He now travels on private airplanes with Trump and is surrounded by powerful politicians and celebrities.

Nauta has repeatedly told Trump advisers that he was loyal to Trump throughout the course of the investigation, and he has grown closer to the former president in the more than two years since Trump left office, spending more time in his presence than most other Trump aides. Nauta told Trump’s team when his phone was taken by federal investigators, according to three Trump advisers.

While other Trump aides quit their posts after becoming key figures in the case, such as Trump secretary Molly Michael, Nauta stayed in Trump’s employ – first working for his political action committee and, more recently, for his 2024 presidential campaign.

Trump’s PAC is paying for his legal counsel, Woodward and Brand, who are representing a range of witnesses employed by Trump. People familiar with the case said investigators have questioned several witnesses about why the PAC was footing their legal bills – and whether any strings were attached to such an arrangement.

Brand has previously said there is nothing improper about a third party paying a client’s legal fees, and that a lawyer’s obligation is always to the client.

Woodward has given Trump legal advice at times, people familiar with the matter said. Woodward declined to comment on conversations with Trump.

Nauta has taken nearly every trip with Trump to political rallies, summers with Trump in Bedminster, N.J., and winters with him in Palm Beach, Fla. He’s been spotted doing everything from fixing Trump’s collar at a golf tournament to carrying Trump’s now infamous banker boxes and briefcases on and off the former president’s jet. He is well-liked in Trump’s orbit of sometimes warring advisers.

“He’s just a service oriented guy,” said Ty Cobb, a former Trump White House lawyer who knew Nauta in his capacity as Trump’s valet. Nauta served them during long, working lunches in the residence. Cobb recalled that when Nauta noticed that Cobb was leaving the cheeseburgers Nauta served untouched, he quietly began serving him fish instead.

“He’s not partisan, he’s a real genuine person, and somebody who never ever expected in his lifetime to be the valet to the president of the United States – that was the highest honor of his life,” Cobb added. “I’d be shocked if Trump said 10 words a day to him. Two of the words not in Trump’s vocabulary? ‘Thank you.'”

The two arrived together at court for their hearing Tuesday. In court, Nauta sat far down the defendants’ table from his scowling boss and could be seen at times leaning over to peer at him.

“We’re going to start off by taking former president Trump first,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman said as he opened the session. “And then we’ll handle co-defendant Waltine Nauta.”

Goodman said that he would ordinarily order the two to cease all contact until they go on trial but he would instead require only that they not speak about the case, given that Nauta works for Trump and, he noted, is with him “on a daily basis.”

“It would be impossible for that condition to work in the typical way,” Goodman said.

Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday. Goodman ordered a lawyer for Nauta to appear again to enter a plea on June 27 since he did not have a permanent Florida lawyer admitted to practice before the federal court in the state, as required for an arraignment.

Trump and Nauta’s lawyers spent much of the past few days interviewing for other lawyers but neither had retained a new Florida-based attorney as of Wednesday.

People familiar with the matter said Nauta’s team is considering adding David O. Markus, who recently succeeded in defending former Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in a federal case. Late last week, Markus declined to join Trump’s defense. He declined to comment.

After the court hearing ended Tuesday, Nauta joined Trump at a brief stop at Cafe Versailles, a Cuban restaurant in downtown Miami.

For Nauta, it was business as usual as Trump floated through the coffee shop and bakery on Tuesday afternoon, with Nauta scurrying behind him to direct traffic and keep the crowd at bay. “Food for everyone,” Trump exclaimed to diners.

At one point, a handful of religious leaders are seen on camera huddling around Trump and gesticulating, head bowed in apparent prayer over the former president facing serious legal peril.

Nauta lingered out of the shot.