NEW YORK (AP) — When former President Donald Trump appears in federal court Tuesday, he will be joined at the defense table by a man well-practiced in standing by his side: his valet turned alleged co-conspirator, Walt Nauta.
Nauta, a Navy veteran who fetched Trump’s Diet Cokes as his valet at the White House before joining him as a personal aide at Mar-a-Lago, now finds himself in legal jeopardy alongside the former president. He is accused of moving boxes from the White House at Trump’s direction and then lying about it to investigators.
Nauta is the latest in a series of Trump loyalists to face potential jail time after his work for the former president. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer and attorney, spent more than 13 months in prison over payouts he helped arrange during the 2016 presidential race to keep women from going public about alleged sexual encounters with Trump. Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, just finished serving three months at Rikers Island after pleading guilty to receiving $1.7 million in unreported job perks.
“Loyalty to Donald Trump is like First Avenue in Manhattan: one way. History has shown time and again that Donald cares for no one other than himself,” said Cohen, who has since turned on Trump and eventually tried to win leniency by cooperating with prosecutors.
Nauta, according to the indictment unsealed Friday, played a crucial role in the alleged scheme with Trump, who is charged with 37 counts of illegally hoarding classified documents and obstructing the government’s efforts to get them back.
The government alleges Nauta helped pack Trump’s boxes before he left the White House and repeatedly moved them to various rooms at Mar-a-Lago in response to Trump’s requests.
At one point, the indictment alleges, Nauta discovered several boxes had fallen over in the storage room, dumping their contents on the floor. Nauta snapped and shared photographs of the scene, which included a document with a visible marking warning it was restricted to only the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
Nauta was key to Trump’s investigation early on, with FBI agents grilling him about the movement of boxes inside Mar-a-Lago weeks before serving their search warrant at the property. Like other witnesses close to Trump, though, his answers to law enforcement put him in legal jeopardy.
Although prosecutors say Nauta moved boxes of documents to Trump’s residence for his review at his direction, he lied to agents by saying he wasn’t aware of that happening, according to the indictment. And when agents asked if he knew where on the property the boxes had been stored, he said, “I wish, I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. I don’t — I honestly just don’t know.”
Nauta’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, declined to answer questions about the charges or any efforts to get his client to turn on the former president, but confirmed the two would appear together.
Nauta faces six federal charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, corruptly concealing a document or record and making false statements. His inclusion in the indictment was met by protest from Trump, who praised Nauta as “a wonderful man” who had ”done a fantastic job!”
“They are trying to destroy his life, like the lives of so many others, hoping that he will say bad things about ‘Trump.’ He is strong, brave, and a Great Patriot. The FBI and DOJ are CORRUPT!” he wrote.
Ty Cobb, the former White House attorney who served as Trump’s lawyer during the Russia investigation, said he felt sorry for Nauta, whom he described as a dutiful worker who “nods and then does what he’s been told to do.”
“I think Walt is easy prey for the president because this is a dedicated patriot,” he said. “The proudest moment he ever had was being named valet to the president and sadly the president he got named valet for was Trump.”
Cobb recalled Nauta stopping by his home, checking in on him and fetching him club soda when he was working late. He said he remembered how Nauta noticed — after dozens of uneaten hamburgers — that Cobb didn’t eat meat and quietly began substituting salmon for his lunches.
“I think it’s really sad that people were not able to convince him of his misplaced loyalty,” Cobb said of Nauta’s decision not to cooperate with prosecutors. “He should be a witness. He shouldn’t be a defendant. But you can only dangle that opportunity for so long before you have to shoot. So I think it’s tragic.”
John Dean, the White House counsel who testified against former President Richard Nixon over Watergate and later served four months for obstructing justice, said that he would advise Nauta to turn against Trump.
“He could strike a good deal and help put it away for the government,” he said on CNN.
As for Cohen, he gave grand jury testimony over the hush money payments that led to the first-ever criminal charges against a former president. Trump was indicted in March in New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection to the payouts to the women who alleged sexual encounters with him. Trump has denied the allegations and any criminal wrongdoing.
Weisselberg, who testified against the Trump Organization at his trial, said on the witness stand that neither Trump nor his family knew about the tax scheme. Prosecutors maintained Trump “knew exactly what was going on.”
Cohen said Nauta should learn from his own experience that devotion to Trump isn’t worth the consequences.
“I predict Walt will suffer the exact same outcome as the rest of us who have all been thrown under the bus for the benefit of Donald J. Trump,” Cohen said, describing “just another Trump acolyte whose life has been turned completely upside down for his misguided loyalty to a man who didn’t deserve it.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.