On May 25, while former President Donald J. Trump was at the Saudi-backed LIV golf tournament at his course in Sterling, Virginia, one of his aides was photographed leaning toward him and diligently adjusting his collar of her white pullover, a moment of closeness that had become routine for the couple.
The timing of the photograph was noteworthy: A day earlier, the aide, Walt Nauta, had been notified by the government that he was the target of a federal investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents, suggesting that the allegations against Nauta were probable.
On Friday, prosecutors unveiled those allegations. Mr. Nauta, a 40-year Navy veteran, has been charged with conspiracy, making false statements and withholding documents as part of Mr. Trump’s effort to thwart government attempts to reclaim the confidential documents Mr. Trump had brought with him when did he leave the White House.
Mr. Nauta’s story is, among other things, a cautionary tale about what loyalty to Mr. Trump can bring. After serving his country in the military and serving as a valet in the White House, Mr. Nauta remained with Mr. Trump as a personal aide and now faces the prospect of years in federal prison for apparently carrying out Trump’s wishes. he.
Until now largely unknown to the public, Mr. Nauta has been thrust into the spotlight as a low-level but central figure in the conspiracy alleged by prosecutors. Mr. Nauta, who has been on Mr. Trump’s campaign payroll, was part of Mr. Trump’s travel entourage during a trip to Georgia and North Carolina on Saturday.
The unsealed indictment paints a detailed picture of him doing chores for Mr. Trump, moving boxes in and out of a warehouse in Mar-a-Lago during a critical period: the weeks between issuing a subpoena last year demanding the return of all confidential documents in the possession of Mr. Trump’s presidential office and a visit to Mar-a-Lago soon after by federal prosecutors seeking to enforce the subpoena and gather any materials relevant.
During that time – from May 11, 2022 to June 3, 2022 – Mr. Nauta, under the direction of Mr. Trump, moved boxes of materials he picked up from the White House in or out of a warehouse in Mar-a-Lago at least five times , says the prosecution.
He says he removed a total of 64 boxes from storage but only brought back about 30, with the rest missing. This all occurred, the indictment says, before one of Trump’s attorneys, M. Evan Corcoran, began sorting through materials in the warehouse in an attempt to find any remaining confidential documents.
The same day prosecutors arrived in Mar-a-Lago to meet with Mr. Corcoran and collect the classified material, Mr. Nauta and others “loaded several boxes of Trump’s with other items onto an airplane that brought Trump and his family up north for the summer,” the indictment says.
Well before the indictment was filed Thursday in federal district court in Miami, authorities had been trying to get Mr. Nauta to turn on Mr. Trump and cooperate with their investigation. Already last fall, Washington prosecutors increased pressure on Mr. Nauta and his attorney, Stanley Woodward Jr., saying they were skeptical of Mr. Nauta’s story and indicating he could be charged in the case.
Around the same time, according to two people familiar with the matter, Mr. Woodward had a meeting about Mr. Nauta with prosecutors involved in the investigation into the documents, including Jay Bratt, of the National Security Division of the Justice Department, which was conducting the investigation at the time.
During the meeting, the people said, Mr. Bratt tried to get Mr. Woodward to get Mr. Nauta to cooperate and then brought up the fact that he knew Mr. Woodward had an outstanding application to become a judge at the court superior of Washington. Mr. Trump’s lawyers and advisers believe that Mr. Bratt was actually trying to persuade, even threaten, Mr. Woodward into advising his client to help the government — an accusation Mr. Trump later made on social media, albeit with his facts slightly wrong.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Special Counsel Jack Smith, who now oversees the documents case, declined to comment on the allegation.
Mr Woodward also declined to comment.
Trump’s allies said the threat of an indictment that had been hovering for months had impacted Nauta, who was described as a stoic presence around Trump.
Now that the charges have been filed, the pressure on Mr. Nauta has only increased. The obstruction charges he faces carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison, and the indictment details what he did for Mr. Trump and what prosecutors believed he lied about.
For example, the incidents involving the Mar-a-Lago warehouse weren’t the first time Mr. Nauta has apparently moved boxes at Mr. Trump’s behest. The indictment also points to earlier incidents that occurred over the course of months as National Archives and Records Administration officials were trying to recover about two dozen boxes of material they believe Mr. Trump had taken with him when he left the White House.
Between November 2021 and January 2022, Mr. Trump told Mr. Nauta and another Mar-a-Lago employee to bring boxes to his residence in the complex so he could examine them, apparently before returning them, according to the indictment. Mr. Nauta and the other employee updated each other via text messages on Mr. Trump’s progress with the boxes.
An incident from December 2021 suggests that Mr. Nauta might have known the boxes contained sensitive materials.
That month, the indictment says, he took a picture of boxes that had tipped over, spilling their contents onto the floor in the storage area, and sent the picture to the other employee. Among the papers scattered on the floor was a secret document relating to the « Five Eyes » program, an agreement between the intelligence agencies of the United States, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
On Jan. 13, 2022, Mr. Nauta texted the other Trump employee and said, « He’s monitoring boxes, more to follow today if he wants to spend more today or tomorrow. » Four days later, Mr. Nauta and the other employee loaded the boxes into Mr. Nauta’s car and took them to a commercial truck for retrieval by the National Archives, the indictment said.
Prosecutors accused Mr. Nauta of making several false or misleading statements about much of it during an interview with the FBI on May 26, 2022.
Mr. Nauta falsely told investigators that he « was unaware that Trump’s boxes were being taken to the Trump residence for his review, » the indictment said. Mr. Nauta also lied, the indictment claims, saying he had no idea how the boxes he and the other employee had brought from the Mr. Trump residence to the truck outside got to the residence in the first place.
A native of the U.S. territory of Guam, Mr. Nauta enlisted in the Navy in 2001. He ended up working at the White House during the Trump presidency, first in the cafeteria, which is run by the Navy. Though deeply private, Mr. Nauta quickly became a genial presence who displayed the sensitivity of a military member about working for the commander-in-chief, and the two men developed a rapport.
His colleagues found him efficient and apolitical, according to a former colleague. He was able to anticipate Mr. Trump’s needs, the former colleague said – a key component to dealing with the former president – but was also aware of his eccentricities.
Mr. Trump trusted and liked him immensely, according to his former colleagues. Mr. Nauta transitioned from the cafeteria to being a waiter who was near Mr. Trump more frequently, bringing him Diet Coke, making sure the president’s suit was pressed, and bringing hairspray or hand sanitizer to meet Mr. Trump.
He retired from the Navy after Trump left the White House and went to work for the former president in Mar-a-Lago, one of the few constants in Trump’s small orbit at the time.
Former aides to Mr. Trump who have observed Mr. Nauta closely said that unlike many who have approached Mr. Trump over the years, Mr. Nauta did not appear to be working a « side hustle » to monetize or become famous due to its access to the former president.
He is now in a position many others have: attached to Mr. Trump as he is being targeted by prosecutors.
Others who have been there include Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, and Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO of the Trump Organization.
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Weisselberg both pleaded guilty to charges in cases where no charges were brought against Mr. Trump. Both served prison sentences. And in both cases, Mr. Trump and his allies have insisted that the men’s actions were independent of Mr. Trump, an idea Mr. Cohen has aggressively protested.