Federal prosecutors have gained the cooperation of a person who worked at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the New York Times reported, as they seek a more complete picture of whether the former US president took steps to remove classified documents from a storage room in response to a subpoena for their return.
The identity of the cooperating witness and the extent of the information divulged remains unknown, but the person was reported as having turned over a picture of the storage room where the vast majority of the classified documents at the property had been located.
The development comes as the special counsel Jack Smith has renewed efforts to focus on whether the failure by Trump to fully comply with a subpoena last year demanding the return of any classified documents was a deliberate act of obstruction, multiple people familiar with the matter said.
Last June, the Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran helped draft a sworn statement attesting to a “diligent search” for any classified documents. Corcoran returned some papers to the justice department, but his search was proved to be incomplete when the FBI later seized 101 classified documents.
To understand whether Trump decided to hide classified documents after receiving the subpoena, investigators have been examining Trump’s handling of any classified documents, how and where they were stored, why the subpoena was not fully complied with, and gaps in surveillance footage.
The special counsel recently issued more subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago employees – including the chefs in the kitchen and a housekeeper who has been called in at least twice – to the point that nearly everyone who works at the property has been quizzed, the people said.
To resolve the issue about the gaps in the surveillance footage, the special counsel last week subpoenaed Matthew Calamari Sr, the Trump Organization’s security chief who became its chief operating officer, and his son Matthew Calamari Jr, the director of corporate security.
Both Calamaris testified to the federal grand jury in Washington on Thursday, and were questioned in part on a text message that Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, had sent them around the time that the justice department last year asked for the surveillance footage, one of the people said.
The text message is understood to involve Nauta asking Matthew Calamari Sr to call him back about the justice department’s request, one of the people said – initially a point of confusion for the justice department, which appears to have thought the text was to Calamari Jr.
But Nauta has emerged as a central player in the incomplete subpoena response, after he was seen on the surveillance footage going in and out of the storage room to collect and return boxes both before and after the subpoena was issued to Trump in May of last year.
The scrutiny around Nauta has long been focused on whether Trump enlisted his help to remove classified documents from the storage room and take them to his office or elsewhere before Trump’s lawyers searched the room when they completed their incomplete subpoena response.
Nauta himself has turned into a dead-end for investigators when, last fall, the justice department threatened to charge him with obstruction or making false statements to the FBI after he gave differing accounts to investigators in an effort to scare him into cooperation.
But the move backfired. Nauta’s lawyer informed the justice department that his client would never again talk to investigators unless he was charged or unless he was offered an immunity deal like what was offered to Trump adviser Kash Patel, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
In a statement, a Trump spokesman said of the investigation: “This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch-hunt against President Trump that is concocted to meddle in an election and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House.”
The special counsel had not made a decision either way as of Friday, one of the people said, and the threat of charges was the last interaction that Nauta has had with investigators. Likewise, Patel’s last interaction was when he testified to the grand jury pursuant to his immunity deal.
Some people inside the justice department believe that threatening Nauta with prosecution so early on in the investigation was a mistake, and that they could have taken a lighter approach that could have led to answers for issues that have since cropped up, one of the people said.
After losing Nauta, investigators have turned to other witnesses who could shed light on his role. In recent interviews, they have asked whether Nauta removed boxes containing classified documents when he was in the storage room at the time of the subpoena, and where he went with them.
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