Trump Charged with Seeking to Delete Security Footage in Documents Case

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
Former president Donald Trump speaks during an event at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on June 13.

Prosecutors announced additional charges against Donald Trump on Thursday in his alleged hoarding and hiding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, accusing the former president and a newly-indicted aide of trying to keep security camera footage from being reviewed by investigators and bringing the number of total federal charges against Trump to 40.

Trump already faced 31 counts of illegally retaining national defense information, but federal prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith have added a 32nd to the list. That count centers on a now-infamous conversation Trump allegedly had at his golf club and summer residence in Bedminster, N.J., in July 2021, focused on what has been described by others as a secret military document concerning Iran.

In that conversation, which was recorded, Trump said: “As president I could have declassified it. . . . Now I can’t, you know, but this is still secret.”

The new indictment also levels accusations of a broader effort by Trump and some of those around him to cover their tracks as the FBI sought to retrieve highly classified documents kept at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s home and private club, long after his presidency ended. The indictment charges that Trump and two aides, Waltine “Walt” Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, requested that another Trump employee “delete security camera footage at the Mar-a-Lago Club to prevent the footage from being provided to a federal grand jury.”

While Trump has publicly claimed he was happy to hand over the footage in response to a grand jury subpoena, others close to him have said he was upset about it, and the indictment suggests a scramble among his aides soon after they received the demand for the footage. Prosecutors allege that Nauta, Trump’s longtime valet, changed plans to travel with Trump to Illinois around the time the subpoena was sent, instead traveling to Florida to talk to other Trump employees about the camera footage. He appeared to try to keep the reason for the trip to Mar-a-Lago under wraps, the indictment alleges, telling others he was going there for different reasons.

Nauta was indicted alongside the former president in the documents case in June, accused of helping him mislead investigators as they sought to retrieve all of the classified material in Trump’s possession.

Both Trump and Nauta have pleaded not guilty to the charges in the initial indictment. The federal judge overseeing the case in Fort Pierce, Fla., has set the trial to begin in May, though it is not uncommon for such schedules to be delayed to deal with pre-trial disputes and issues.

People familiar with the investigation have told The Washington Post that Smith’s team repeatedly pressed De Oliveira to explain his actions from June and July 2022, when he was recorded helping Nauta move boxes around Mar-a-Lago and allegedly had conversations with others about security camera footage. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss secret grand jury proceedings, have said investigators grew increasingly skeptical of De Oliveira’s answers as the investigation proceeded.

De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, declined to comment Thursday evening. De Oliveira has worked for Trump for nearly 20 years, beginning as a car valet and becoming a property manager in January 2022. As the investigation progressed, he has told colleagues, his phone was seized. He has continued to work at Mar-a-Lago since the initial charges against Trump and Nauta were filed.

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung called the charges unveiled Thursday “a continued desperate and flailing attempt” to harass the former president – who is again seeking the GOP nomination for the White House – and those around him. A lawyer for Nauta declined to comment on the new charges against his client.

The initial indictment charged Trump with 37 separate counts. Each of the 31 counts of alleged willful retention of national defense information represents a different classified document that Trump allegedly withheld – 21 that were discovered when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago last August, and 10 that were turned over to the FBI in a sealed envelope two months earlier.

Nauta originally faced six charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document, concealing a document and scheming to conceal.

All three defendants are now charged with altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing an object, as well as a similar crime of corruptly altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing a document or object.

De Oliveira was also charged with lying to the FBI in a January interview in which he allegedly denied seeing boxes being moved or helping move boxes.

The new version of the indictment recounts an alleged exchange between De Oliveira and another Trump employee on June 27, 2022, in which De Oliveira allegedly asked to have a private discussion in an “audio closet” at Mar-a-Lago.

De Oliveira allegedly asked the other employee how long the footage from the security cameras were stored on their computer server. When the employee replied 45 days, De Oliveira told the employee “that ‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted,” the indictment alleges. The other employee is referred to only as “Employee 4” in the indictment, but a person close to the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss it, has said that person is an IT worker named Yuscil Taveras.

The employee replied “that he would not know how to do that, and that he did not believe that he would have the rights to do that,” according to the indictment. “De Oliveira then insisted to Trump Employee 4 that ‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted and asked, ‘What are we going to do?'”

The indictment does not allege that the footage was actually deleted, and authorities have already said in court papers that the security camera footage they received provided critical evidence in their case.

A lawyer for Taveras declined to comment.

After the FBI conducted a court-authorized search of Trump’s home last August to retrieve the documents with classified markings that he hadn’t returned, at least one Trump employee apparently wanted to make sure that De Oliveira wouldn’t tell officials about attempts to hide the materials, according to the indictment.

“Someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good,” Nauta allegedly said in a call with another Trump employee. That employee assured Nauta that De Oliveira was “loyal” and “would not do anything to affect his relationship with Trump.” The indictment notes that on the same day, Trump called De Oliveira “and told De Oliveira that Trump would get De Oliveira an attorney.”

That exchange could explain why, during the course of their investigation, prosecutors have asked witnesses so many questions about how and why Trump entities have paid for some witnesses to get lawyers. They have also asked whether that legal representation was designed in any way to shield Trump from more legal exposure, people familiar with those exchanges have said.

The indictment unsealed Thursday is known as a superseding indictment, meaning that it replaces the initial indictment that was handed up in June. They are not uncommon, but they can sometimes lead to delays in when a case goes to trial.

“It could be that they found new evidence. It could be that they are now more confident in their ability to prove something that they knew,” said David Aaron, a former Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted national security cases. “It is also possible that someone started talking more freely to prosecutors once they saw the indictment. Someone started to be more forthcoming.”

Because the Mar-a-Lago case involves highly classified documents, the process of reviewing evidence will be complicated and could also bring considerable delays. The May trial date would put the trial in the middle of the 2024 presidential election, after many of the nominating contests are complete and potentially after the GOP nomination is essentially wrapped up.

Separate from the documents investigation, Smith and his team have been examining efforts by Trump and his allies to block President Biden’s 2020 election victory, including the events that led up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Trump announced last week that his lawyers had been informed by the Justice Department that he could face charges in that case as well. On Thursday, his lawyers met with prosecutors about the investigation, according to a message Trump posted on Truth Social.

Investigators have looked at ads and email messages that sought to fundraise off false claims of election fraud, as well as the decision by Republican electors in some states won by Biden to send signed statements purporting to affirm Trump as the victor.

Trump is also criminally charged in New York state for allegedly falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments during the 2016 election. The New York case is scheduled for trial in March; Trump has pleaded not guilty.