FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s pending trial for allegedly mishandling classified documents cleared the way Friday for a second one of Trump’s employees and co-defendants to keep his lawyer when the case goes before a jury next year.
Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision ends a long period of wrangling between special counsel Jack Smith and lawyers for two Trump aides who have been charged in the case. Prosecutors had questioned whether there is a conflict of interest because lawyers for the two men have also represented some potential witnesses.
Friday’s hearing was held to determine whether Waltine “Walt” Nauta — a longtime valet to the former president who is charged with helping his boss obstruct government efforts to retrieve classified documents — could keep Stanley Woodward as his lawyer, despite Woodward having previously represented a different Trump employee who is expected to testify against Nauta. Woodward also is currently representing a witness who could testify in the case.
At the hour-long hearing, Cannon walked Nauta through his rights as a defendant and ensured that he understood the potential conflicts.
At one point, the judge warned Nauta that Woodward may “pull his punches or be a weaker advocate,” particularly because his obligations to these witnesses as their former or current attorney could prevent him from questioning their credibility.
“I do understand the conflicts,” Nauta said. “But I still choose Mr. Woodward as my lawyer.”
The issue was supposed to be resolved last week, but Cannon cut that hearing short, saying prosecutors were “wasting the court’s time” by introducing an unexpected argument.
The special counsel’s office had raised concerns about lawyers for Nauta and the other co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, who is a property manager at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home and private club. Prosecutors requested a type of proceeding known as a Garcia hearing, in which the judge would explain the potential conflict and make sure the defendants waived any concerns about it.
The judge held a hearing for De Oliveira last week, and he waived any concerns. De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, told Cannon at the hearing that he would have another attorney cross-examine at trial any witnesses that he previously represented. Woodward did not make that same concession at the time.
But this time around, Woodward told the judge that his co-counsel would cross-examine any witnesses that he has represented.
Trump’s lead attorney in the case, Todd Blanche, attended the hearing.
Prosecutors often seek Garcia hearings largely to ensure defendants don’t later try to use the issue to appeal a conviction. In the Trump case, attorneys for both De Oliveira and Nauta have said in court filings that they can adequately represent their clients.
The classified-document indictment is one of four criminal cases Trump faces. He is separately charged in federal court in D.C. and state court in Georgia in connection with his efforts to block Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, and in state court in New York with falsification of business records in connection with a hush money payment during the 2016 election.
He faces 91 felony charges in all and has pleaded not guilty in each case.
In the documents case, Nauta’s lawyer, Woodward, has represented at least seven other people whom prosecutors interviewed during their investigation, the government said in a court filing ahead of Friday’s hearing. Two of those people could be called as government witnesses in the trial.
Prosecutors have told Woodward that at least one of his former clients had incriminating information against Nauta. While lawyers have been careful not to name that witness in court, referring to him only as “Trump Employee 4,” The Washington Post has previously reported that the witness is Yuscil Taveras, an IT worker at Mar-a-Lago, where hundreds of classified documents were kept.
After retaining a new lawyer to replace Woodward on July 5, Taveras offered prosecutors information implicating Trump, Nauta and De Oliveira in alleged efforts to delete Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage as the government was trying to retrieve the classified documents, The Post has reported.
Cannon said that she would hold a hearing on Nov. 1 to discuss the pretrial schedule.
Stein reported from Washington.