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Prosecutor in Trump classified papers case calls claims of hostility toward co-defendant ‘garbage’

By TERRY SPENCER and ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
Published: May 22, 2024, 1:05pm

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — A lawyer for Donald Trump’s personal valet accused federal prosecutors Wednesday of targeting the valet because he refused to cooperate against the former president in the classified documents case. A prosecutor called the claim “garbage.”

Walt Nauta was charged alongside Trump last year in a federal case accusing them of conspiring to conceal boxes of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Both men have pleaded not guilty.

The case, among four criminal prosecutions against Trump, had been set for trial on May 20 but U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon cited numerous issues she has yet to resolve as a basis for canceling the trial date. Prosecutors and defense lawyers were in court Wednesday for the first time since the judge indefinitely postponed the trial earlier this month.

Stanley Woodward, a lawyer for Nauta, conceded to Cannon that there was insufficient evidence to dismiss the indictment on grounds of vindictive prosecution. But he said there was enough for her to order prosecutors to turn over all communication they had about Nauta to see if hostility existed.

He said he believed his client was only being prosecuted because he refused to testify against Trump and because he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by refusing to testify a second time before a grand jury.

“There was a campaign to get Mr. Nauta to cooperate in the first federal prosecution of a former president of the United States and when he refused, they prosecuted him,” Woodward told the judge. “That’s a violation of his constitutional rights.”

Prosecutor David Harbach, a member of special counsel Jack Smith’s team, which brought the case, called Woodward’s argument “garbage” and said it was common for defendants to be offered better treatment if they cooperate – a subsequent indictment does not qualify as vindictive prosecution.

“There is not a single bit of evidence of animus toward Mr. Nauta,” Harbach told Cannon.

In addition to the Nauta matter, Cannon was to hear arguments on a Trump request to dismiss the documents indictment on grounds that it fails to clearly articulate a crime and instead amounts to “a personal and political attack against President Trump” with a “litany of uncharged grievances both for public and media consumption.”

Prosecutors on special counsel Jack Smith’s team, which brought the case, will argue against that request. Trump, a Republican, was not expected to be present for the hearing.

The motion is one of several that Trump’s lawyers have filed to dismiss the case, some of which have already been denied.

The arguments come one day after a newly unsealed motion revealed that defense lawyers are seeking to exclude evidence from the boxes of records that FBI agents seized during an August 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago.

The defense lawyers asserted in the motion that the search was unconstitutional and illegal and the FBI affidavit filed in justification of it was tainted by misrepresentations.

Smith’s team rejected each of those accusations and defended the investigative approach as “measured” and “graduated.” It said the search warrant was obtained after investigators collected surveillance video showing what it said was a concerted effort to conceal the boxes of classified documents inside the property.

“The warrant was supported by a detailed affidavit that established probable cause and did not omit any material information. And the warrant provided ample guidance to the FBI agents who conducted the search. Trump identifies no plausible basis to suppress the fruits of that search,” prosecutors wrote.

The defense motion was filed in February but was made public on Tuesday, along with hundreds of pages of documents from the investigation that were filed to the case docket in Florida.

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Those include a previously sealed opinion last year from the then-chief judge of the federal court in Washington, which said that Trump’s lawyers, months after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, had turned over four additional documents with classification markings that were found in Trump’s bedroom.

That March 2023 opinion from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell directed a former lead lawyer for Trump in the case to abide by a grand jury subpoena and to turn over materials to investigators, rejecting defense arguments that their cooperation was prohibited by attorney-client privilege and concluding that prosecutors had made a “prima facie” showing that Trump had committed a crime.

Trump, the GOP presumptive presidential nominee for 2024, has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.