Trump Co-Defendant Says He Wants to Keep Lawyer Despite Possible Conflicts

A personal aide to former President Donald J. Trump and co-defendant in the classified documents case told a federal judge on 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Nauta, understood that their lawyers had possible conflicts. It was a continuation of one cut short this month when Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., scolded prosecutors for the special counsel, Jack Smith, for bringing up a scenario that they had not previously disclosed in court filings.

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

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

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

Until this summer, one of those clients was an information technology aide at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. 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, though people familiar with the matter have identified him as Yuscil Taveras.

According to Mr. Taveras, Mr. Nauta and another co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, had tried to convince 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 Mr. Taveras, facing the possibility of a perjury charge for lying to a grand jury, had fired Mr. Woodward and hired a new lawyer. He then provided new testimony.

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

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

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

The trial is currently set for May 2024.

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