Trump Co-Defendants Argue for Dismissal of Charges in Documents Case


Lawyers for co-defendants of former President Donald J. Trump argued in federal court in Florida on Friday to dismiss charges of aiding in the obstruction of efforts to recover classified documents.

It was a rare hearing of the documents case in which Mr. Trump did not take center stage. His co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, are loyal Trump employees, accused of conspiring with the former president to hide boxes containing classified government materials after Mr. Trump left office.

Prosecutors also accused them of plotting to destroy security camera footage of the boxes being moved.

Judge Aileen M. Cannon considered the defense lawyers’ arguments in her Fort Pierce, Fla., courtroom but ended the two-hour hearing Friday without making a decision on whether the charges against the two men should be dismissed. She also did not announce a date for the trial to begin, despite holding a hearing more than a month ago on the matter.

Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira often take a back seat in the case against Mr. Trump. But each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious offenses.

Mr. Nauta, 41, is Mr. Trump’s personal aide and served as his military valet when Mr. Trump was in the White House. He spent 20 years in the Navy, taking an honorable discharge in September 2021, according to his service records.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, say Mr. Nauta moved 64 boxes from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida estate, and took them to the former president’s residence in the days before one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers was supposed to review the documents in response to a subpoena.

Mr. De Oliveira, 57, is a longtime Mar-a-Lago employee who rose through the ranks to become the property manager. He is accused of helping Mr. Nauta carry about 30 of those boxes from Mr. Trump’s residence back to the storage room the day Mr. Trump’s lawyer arrived at the resort to look through them.

Lawyers for the two men argued that their clients did not know the boxes they moved contained classified material. They also said their clients needed more details about the evidence against them than what was included in the 53-page superseding indictment.

Judge Cannon demurred, saying that the details in the indictment were “substantial.” She also suggested that some of their arguments for dismissing the charges were better suited for the jury to consider during the trial.

Motions to dismiss charges ahead of a trial are often long shots, and in many cases decided without holding a hearing. But Judge Cannon, who was appointed by Mr. Trump in the final days of his presidency, has at times seemed to embrace some of the former president’s legal arguments.

Some have also criticized the slow pace of her work, allowing routine issues to build up on her docket. Though the trial start date remains May 20 on the docket, it is exceedingly unlikely to begin that soon. Mr. Trump’s New York trial over the charge that he falsified records to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star made during his 2016 presidential campaign is set to begin on Monday and expected to last six to eight weeks.

Judge Cannon has yet to set a new date for the trial, even though both the prosecutors and the defendants have said they could go to trial this summer.

Legal experts have noted her inexperience — just four years on the bench. Some also question whether she is favoring Mr. Trump in the case and point to the former president’s leaving her out of attacks on judges overseeing cases against him.

On Thursday, he praised Judge Cannon on his social media site, calling her “respected” and “fair and impartial.”

John Ismay contributed reporting, and Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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