Walt Nauta is the latest Trump loyalist to face potential jail time after working for him
Jun 12, 2023, 9:08 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2023, 4:22 pm
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — When he was joined at the defense table by a man well-practiced in standing by his side: his valet turned alleged co-conspirator, Walt Nauta.
Nauta, a Navy veteran who fetched Trump’s Diet Cokes as his valet at the White House before joining him as a personal aide at Mar-a-Lago, now finds himself in legal jeopardy alongside the former president. He is accused of moving boxes containing reams of sensitive information at Trump’s direction and then lying about it to investigators.
On Tuesday, Nauta traveled in the former president’s motorcade to the Miami courthouse, where Trump became the first former president in U.S. history to be indicted on federal charges. In court, the two sat at the defendants’ table together — one of Trump’s attorneys between them — as Trump pleaded not guilty to dozens of felony counts accusing him of hoarding classified documents and refusing government demands to give them back. Nauta himself did not enter a plea because he did not have a local attorney and will instead be arraigned on June 27.
After the appearance, Nauta accompanied Trump to a stop at Miami’s famed Cuban restaurant Versailles, where he helped usher supporters eager to take selfies with the former president.
Nauta is the latest in a series of Trump loyalists to face potential jail time after his work for the former president. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer and attorney, just finished serving three months at Rikers Island after pleading guilty to receiving $1.7 million in unreported job perks.
“Loyalty to Donald Trump is like First Avenue in Manhattan: one way. History has shown time and again that Donald cares for no one other than himself,” said Cohen, who has since turned on Trump and eventually tried to win leniency by cooperating with prosecutors.
Nauta, according to the indictment unsealed Friday, played a crucial role in the alleged scheme with Trump. The government alleges Nauta helped pack Trump’s boxes before he left the White House and repeatedly moved them to various rooms at Mar-a-Lago in response to Trump’s requests.
At one point, the indictment alleges, Nauta discovered several boxes had fallen over in the storage room, dumping their contents on the floor. Nauta snapped and shared photographs of the scene, which included a document with a visible marking warning it was restricted to only the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Nauta was key to Trump’s investigation early on, with FBI agents grilling him about the movement of boxes inside Mar-a-Lago weeks before serving their search warrant at the property. Like other witnesses close to Trump, though, his answers to law enforcement put him in legal jeopardy.
Although prosecutors say Nauta moved boxes of documents to Trump’s residence for his review at his direction, Nauta lied to agents by saying he wasn’t aware of that happening, according to the indictment. And when agents asked if he knew where on the property the boxes had been stored, he said, “I wish, I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. I don’t — I honestly just don’t know.”
Nauta’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, declined to answer questions about the charges or any efforts to get his client to turn on the former president.
Nauta faces six federal charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, corruptly concealing a document or record and making false statements. His inclusion in the indictment was met by protest from Trump, who praised Nauta as “a wonderful man” who had ”done a fantastic job!”
“They are trying to destroy his life, like the lives of so many others, hoping that he will say bad things about ‘Trump.’ He is strong, brave, and a Great Patriot. The FBI and DOJ are CORRUPT!” he wrote on his social media site.
During the hearing, Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman directed Trump not to discuss the case with witnesses — including Nauta — except through his lawyers. Trump attorney Todd Blanche had objected to efforts to bar Trump from talking to witnesses completely, noting many continue to work for him and his campaign.
Ty Cobb, the former White House attorney who served as Trump’s lawyer during the Russia investigation but is now a Trump critic, said he felt sorry for Nauta, whom he described as a dutiful worker who “nods and then does what he’s been told to do.”
“I think Walt is easy prey for the president because this is a dedicated patriot,” he said. “The proudest moment he ever had was being named valet to the president and sadly the president he got named valet for was Trump.”
Cobb recalled Nauta, who was born in Guam, stopping by his home, checking in on him and fetching him club soda when he was working late. He said he remembered how Nauta noticed — after dozens of uneaten hamburgers — that Cobb didn’t eat meat and quietly began substituting salmon for his lunches.
“I think it’s really sad that people were not able to convince him of his misplaced loyalty,” Cobb said of Nauta’s decision not to cooperate with prosecutors. “He should be a witness. He shouldn’t be a defendant. But you can only dangle that opportunity for so long before you have to shoot. So I think it’s tragic.”
John Dean, the White House counsel who testified against former President Richard Nixon over Watergate and later served four months for obstructing justice, said that he would advise Nauta to turn against Trump.
“He could strike a good deal and help put it away for the government,” he said on CNN.
As for Cohen, he gave grand jury testimony over the hush money payments that led to the first-ever criminal charges against a former president. Trump was indicted in March in New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection to the payouts to the women who alleged sexual encounters with him. Trump has denied the allegations and any criminal wrongdoing.
Weisselberg, who testified against the Trump Organization at his trial, said on the witness stand that neither Trump nor his family knew about the tax scheme. Prosecutors maintained Trump “knew exactly what was going on.”
Cohen said Nauta should learn from his own experience that devotion to Trump isn’t worth the consequences.
“I predict Walt will suffer the exact same outcome as the rest of us who have all been thrown under the bus for the benefit of Donald J. Trump,” Cohen said, describing “just another Trump acolyte whose life has been turned completely upside down for his misguided loyalty to a man who didn’t deserve it.”
Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Miami and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.