Trump co-defendant says he wants to keep lawyer despite possible conflicts

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A personal aide to former President Donald Trump and co-defendant in the classified documents case told a federal judge Friday that he wanted to keep his lawyer despite a potential conflict of interest that could be problematic for his defense.

The aide, Walt Nauta, is accused of conspiring with Trump to obstruct efforts to retrieve highly sensitive government documents after he left office. His lawyer, Stanley Woodward Jr., previously represented a key witness in the case.

The hearing appeared to bring to an end a monthslong back-and-forth between the prosecution and defense over whether the co-defendants in the case, including Nauta, understood that their lawyers had possible conflicts. It was a continuation of one cut short this month when Judge Aileen Cannon of U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce scolded prosecutors for special counsel Jack Smith for bringing up a scenario that they had not previously disclosed in court filings.

On Friday, Cannon spent nearly an hour making sure Nauta understood the “potential perils” that could affect his defense.

Nauta, who is still employed by Trump, assured the judge that he understood that in retaining Woodward, he was waiving his right to appeal a potential conviction on the basis that his defense counsel had a conflict of interest.

Woodward is representing several clients with ties to Trump and the former president’s supporters. In some cases, Woodward is being paid through Trump’s political action committee.

Until this summer, one of those clients was an information technology aide at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence, who is considered a crucial witness in the case. Court documents refer to him only as Trump Employee 4, although people familiar with the matter have identified him as Yuscil Taveras.

According to Taveras, Nauta and another co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, had tried to persuade him to delete surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago that prosecutors had subpoenaed as part of their investigation. But that disclosure only came to light after Taveras, facing the possibility of a perjury charge for lying to a grand jury, had fired Woodward and hired a new lawyer. He then provided new testimony.

Like Nauta, De Oliveira, the property manager at Mar-a-Lago, is accused of conspiring to obstruct the government’s criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of national security documents after he had left the White House.

Taveras is so far the only Trump employee known to have agreed to cooperate with the special counsel after facing charges.

Woodward told the special counsel’s office before Friday’s hearing that he would not cross-examine two potential witnesses in the case, including Taveras. He said another lawyer for Nauta, Sasha Dadan, would cross-examine witnesses Woodward previously or currently represents.

The trial is currently set for May.

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