Trump aide pleads not guilty in secret documents case

Ex-White House valet Walt Nauta is accused of moving boxes containing classified documents sought by the US government.

Walt Nauta walking with Donald Trump
Walt Nauta, left, walks with former US President Donald Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, on May 26, 2023 [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

An aide to Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he helped the former United States president hide secret government documents.

Walt Nauta was formally presented with the charges against him in a US federal court in Miami on Thursday.

The arraignment, which lasted a few minutes, came weeks after Nauta first appeared in federal court alongside Trump. His arraignment had been postponed to allow him to acquire legal counsel able to practice in Florida.

Trump, who is seeking the presidency again in 2024, also faces federal charges in the case after authorities alleged that he willfully took and retained classified government files after leaving the White House in early 2021.

Trump is the first former president to be prosecuted at the federal level.

An indictment released last month also accused Trump of keeping the classified files in unsecured locations, including a bathroom at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, and of showing the documents to unauthorised people at private meetings.

The former president has also pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing, slamming the case as a political “witch hunt”.

Nauta – a former White House valet and current Trump assistant – is facing six charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, false statements, and withholding and concealing documents related to the case.

Prosecutors have alleged Nauta hid boxes of documents from Trump’s lawyers who were searching for classified material sought by the US Department of Justice.

Trump defended Nauta in June, accusing prosecutors of pushing to destroy his aide’s life in hopes that he would say “bad things” about the former president. “He is strong, brave, and a Great Patriot,” Trump wrote of Nauta in a social media post last month.

Last year, the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and found more than 100 classified documents. This week, a US judge ordered the release of more information from an affidavit justifying that search.

The affidavit said security footage from Mar-a-Lago showing dozens of boxes being moved ahead of a visit from investigators on June 3, 2022, provided probable cause for the search in August of that year.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon has set August 14 as the initial trial date for the Trump case. But prosecutors have asked for the trial to be postponed until December.

Arguments about what evidence may be admitted at trial usually take months to settle. Further complicating Trump’s prosecution is the need to set up a system to deal with the classified documents at the heart of the case that cannot be seen by jurors and lawyers.

Cannon has set a July 14 hearing over how classified information in the case will be handled.

In addition to the federal case, Trump is facing state-level charges in New York in relation to a hush money payment made to a porn star ahead of the 2016 elections.

Despite his legal troubles, Trump continues to enjoy a comfortable lead in the race for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, according to public opinion polls.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies