Classified Docs Hearing for Trump Co-Defendant Turns Testy

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Tensions in a Florida courtroom briefly flared during a hearing in Donald Trump’s classified documents case on Wednesday, with the judge reprimanding a prosecutor for repeatedly raising his voice.

The hearing is the first of two scheduled to deal with a bid by Trump co-defendant Walt Nauta to get his charges dismissed over alleged “vindictive” prosecution. The pre-trial motion is among a batch of unresolved issues that have snarled proceedings in the case, leading U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to indefinitely delay the trial, which otherwise would have started this week.

But the mood in the room turned sour as the attorneys in the room began sparring over whether Nauta’s defense team had been arm-twisted by prosecutors seeking to get the Mar-a-Lago valet to turn on his boss, for whom he still works.

Stanley Woodward, one of Nauta’s lawyers, claimed early in the hearing that prosecutors had threatened to interfere with a potential judicial nomination if he couldn’t convince his client to flip and cooperate with the government.

“I had been recommended for a judgeship, that’s beyond dispute,” Woodward said, according to CNN.

The allegations center around an Aug. 2022 meeting he had with prosecutor Jay Bratt, a member of special counsel Jack Smith’s team, the details of which Woodward first outlined in a sealed letter to a federal judge last June.

More Classified Docs Were Found in Trump’s Bedroom Months After FBI Raid

Three people familiar with the matter told The Guardian shortly after the letter was filed that Woodward had been summoned to the Department of Justice the previous year. There, Bratt told him that he did not think he was a “Trump guy” and that “he would do the right thing” before mentioning his pending judgeship nomination. Smith’s office has disputed Woodward’s account.

“I think the implication was that I was to travel and convince Mr. Nauta to cooperate with the investigation, and if I didn't do that, there would be consequences,” Woodward said on Wednesday.

Prosecutor David Harbach rose to dismiss the claims as “nonsense” and “a garbage argument to begin with.” Slamming his hand down on the lectern, according to CNN, he heatedly added, “Mr. Woodward’s story about what happened at that meeting is a fantasy; it did not happen.”

Smith’s office has noted that details of Woodward’s account have varied with time, something Harbach reiterated on Wednesday, waving his arms and becoming emotional as Cannon questioned him about the preservation of evidence from the meeting. “Mr. Harbach, I’m just going to ask that you calm down,” the judge told the prosecutor at one point.

Woodward dug his heels in. “Those things happened,” he insisted later in the hearing. “What I understood at the time was Mr. Nauta’s refusal to cooperate could be used against him.” The attorney said he would be willing to testify to the facts of the meeting under oath.

The second hearing, held in the afternoon, hinged on a separate motion by Nauta seeking to kill the charges against him and his co-defendants: Trump and Carlos De Oliveira, a Mar-a-Lago property manager. Smith’s prosecutors have called their argument to dismiss meritless.

Cannon did not issue a ruling on either motion Wednesday. The judge has been accused of slow-walking the trial by some critics, who see her recent delay as a tactic to kick the can down the road past the November presidential election.

Trump faces 37 felony charges in the case related to his willful retention of classified material and attempts to keep the government from retrieving it.

He has pleaded not guilty, as have Nauta and De Oliveira, who are separately charged with trying to help Trump conceal evidence of his wrongdoing.

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