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Aide to Donald Trump pleads not guilty in classified documents case

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Miami, Walt Nauta, an aide to former President Donald Trump, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges. Nauta is accused of conspiring with Trump to withhold classified documents and obstruct a federal investigation. Trump was arraigned last month on similar charges and others and also entered a not guilty plea. NPR's Greg Allen has this report from Miami.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Walt Nauta was with the Navy when he began working at the Trump White House in the mess. He headed off with then-President Trump and became his personal aide, always nearby to bring him Diet Cokes and other things. When Trump left office, Nauta left the Navy and went with him to Mar-a-Lago. According to the federal indictment, Nauta played a key role in helping Trump conceal and withhold classified documents. Prosecutors say he moved dozens of boxes at Mar-a-Lago at Trump's direction. Afterwards, they allege he lied about his actions to federal investigators. Nauta faces, along with Trump, five counts of concealing or withholding documents and taking part in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In court yesterday in Miami, Nauta's Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Stanley Woodward, told a magistrate judge his client was pleading not guilty to all five charges. Judge Edwin Torres asked Nauta if he'd read the indictment, and he said, yes, Your Honor, his only words while in court. Also with Nauta was his new Florida-based lawyer, Sasha Dadan. She's a former public defender with little experience in the federal judicial system. Nauta faces five federal counts, fewer and less serious than the 31 counts facing Trump. Even so, a guilty verdict on all five charges could carry a significant sentence. Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein says if Nauta decides to cooperate with the government, his sentence would be reduced.

DAVID WEINSTEIN: So he has to decide, is it in his best interest to maintain a unified front because he believes the government can't prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt? Or does he need to strike out on his own and cut the best deal that's available for him?

ALLEN: One complicating factor is that Nauta's legal fees are being paid for by Trump's political action committee. Prosecutors reportedly have tried to pressure Nauta to cooperate with investigators, but for now, he appears to be standing by and is still working for Donald Trump. A federal magistrate has ordered the two men not to discuss the case with each other. A hearing is set for next Friday before U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon. Prosecutors are asking for the trial to be delayed until December to give them time to get ready. Trump's lawyers are expected to ask for a further delay, until next fall, maybe even after the presidential election.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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