The day before a key meeting last year between former President Donald J. Trump’s attorneys and officials seeking to recover classified documents in Mr. Trump’s possession, a maintenance worker at the former president’s private club saw an assistant move the boxes into the storage room, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The maintenance guy offered to help the aide—Walt Nauta, who was Mr. Trump’s butler in the White House—move the boxes and ended up lending a hand. But the person familiar with the matter said the worker had no idea what was inside the boxes. The person said the maintenance worker shared that account with federal prosecutors.
The worker’s account will likely be important to prosecutors as they piece together details of how Mr. Trump handled sensitive documents he took with him from the White House upon leaving office and whether he obstructed efforts by the Justice Department and the National Archives to recover them.
Mr. Trump was found to have been keeping some documents in the storage room where Mr. Naota and a maintenance worker were moving boxes the day before the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence official, Jay Pratt, traveled to Mar-a-Lago in late June to demand the return of any government materials withheld by the former president.
Mr. Naota and the worker moved the boxes into the room before the storage room was searched on the same day by M. Evan Corcoran, Mr. Trump’s lawyer who was in discussions with Mr. Pratt. Mr. Corcoran called Justice Department officials that night to arrange a meeting for the next day. A person familiar with his decision said he believed he did not have security clearance to move documents marked confidential.
Weeks earlier, the Justice Department issued a subpoena demanding the return of the documents. Prosecutors were trying to determine whether Mr. Trump moved documents about Mar-a-Lago or sought to conceal some of them after the subpoena.
Part of their interest is trying to determine whether the documents were moved before Mr. Corcoran went through the boxes himself before a meeting with Justice Department officials looking to retrieve them. Prosecutors were asking witnesses about the role of Mr. Naota and the maintenance worker, who has not been publicly named, in moving the documents around that time.
During his trip to Mar-a-Lago on June 3, Mr. Pratt was given a package of about thirty documents marked confidential by a lawyer for Mr. Trump. Mr. Pratt also received a letter, drafted by Mr. Corcoran, but signed by another attorney for the former president, certifying that a diligent search was made for any additional materials in response to the subpoena and that none was found. Mr. Pratt was not allowed to inspect the storage room at that point.
The details were about the timing of Mr. Naota’s interaction with the maintenance guy It was reported earlier by the Washington Post. Naota’s lawyer declined to comment. The maintenance worker’s attorney has not discussed the matter publicly.
The New York Times reported this month that prosecutors had obtained cooperation from a witness who worked at Mar-a-Lago. Among other things, the witness provided investigators with a photo of the storage room.
The investigation, which was overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, is showing signs of entering its final stages, and this week lawyers for Mr. Trump — the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — demanded a meeting to discuss the matter. The case with Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
Stephen Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, called the investigation a “targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump that was set up to interfere with the election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House.”
He added that prosecutors had “harassed anyone and everyone who works, has worked for, or supports President Trump” and confirmed that Mr. Trump has tried to cooperate with the Justice Department.
Prosecutors have been cross-examining witnesses about Mr. Trump’s possible motive for obtaining the documents.
They subpoenaed information about Mr. Trump’s business deals with foreign countries since he became president. Witnesses have told them that some aides may know Mr. Trump still has documents after the initial 15 boxes of government materials – found to contain classified documents – were turned over to the National Archives in January 2022 after tireless efforts through the archives. to recover the materials, according to people familiar with the matter.
Among the most prominent witnesses in recent months has been Mr. Corcoran, who met with Mr. Pratt of the Department of Justice last June and drafted the letter that a diligent search turned up no other documents.
In March, prosecutors breached Mr. Corcoran’s attorney-client privilege with Mr. Trump under the crime of fraud exception, a provision of the law that can be used when investigators have evidence that an attorney’s services may have been used in the commission of a crime.
Judge Beryl A. Howell, then Chief Justice of the Grand Jury in Washington Federal District Court, found that prosecutors had shown sufficient evidence that Mr. Trump knowingly misled Mr. Corcoran about documents still in his possession.
The Times previously reported that Judge Howell, writing in a sealed note, described what she called Mr. Trump’s “misdirection” in dealing with the National Archives in 2021 and early last year, saying it was “apparently a rehearsal” for the way it handled the subpoena before the Tribunal. The grand jury last May, according to a person familiar with the contents of the memo.
In the sealed memorandum setting out the reasons for her ruling that Mr. Corcoran should not be protected with attorney-client privilege, Justice Howell touched on several cases of what prosecutors viewed as evidence of possible obstruction and wrongful possession of government materials on Mr. Trump. For his part, said the person familiar with its contents.
“Other evidence shows that the former president deliberately sought to keep confidential documents when he was not authorized to do so, and was aware of them,” Ms Howell wrote.
Judge Howell acknowledged that the standard for meeting the crime and fraud exception is lower than what is required to bring charges or win a jury verdict, according to the person familiar with what she wrote. However, the judge made clear that she believed the government met the threshold, for obstruction of grand jury proceedings and for “unauthorized retention of national defense information,” the person said.
“The government provided sufficient evidence that the former president possessed tangible documents containing information on national defense,” it wrote, adding that it showed that he “failed to turn over those documents to an officer entitled to receive them.”
At another point, Judge Howell spoke of Mr. Trump’s intent and state of mind, saying the government had also provided sufficient evidence to fulfill the burden of showing that the former president knowingly kept the classified documents, the person said.
She also noted that another search of Trump’s properties late last year, conducted by experts on Mr. Trump’s behalf after pressure from prosecutors, turned up additional secretly-marked documents in his Mar-a-Lago bedroom, according to the person who viewed the document. He said.
“In particular, no excuse was made as to how the former president could have missed the classified documents found in his Mar-a-Lago bedroom,” Judge Howell wrote, according to the person who was briefed on the contents of her memo.