Donald Trump’s valet charged in the classified documents case had his arrangement on Tuesday delayed for a second time to July by a magistrate judge, after he was forced to abandon his choice of top Florida lawyer over a dispute about legal fees, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The valet, Walt Nauta, appeared alongside Trump when the former president pleaded not guilty to 37 criminal charges in federal district court in Miami this month but could not himself enter a plea – a necessary step to start trial preparation – because he lacked local counsel.
Two weeks later, Nauta remains without a lawyer admitted to practice in the southern district of Florida after the person at the top of the shortlist drawn up by Nauta’s defense team decided he needed to charge higher fees to represent him the night before the arrangement, the people said.
The previously unreported dispute over fees in effect meant Nauta could not retain the person as his Florida lawyer, the people said, even though he would be paid by Trump’s political action committee Save America, which has also paid the fees of his lead lawyer, Stanley Woodward.
The reason for the rate hike was not clear, but at least one Florida lawyer who had seriously considered representing Nauta decided several days ago that the reputational and legal risks of working with Trump’s co-defendant in the documents case were too great.
The last-minute scramble to find a trial lawyer has been a common theme in the classified documents case after Trump struggled to find local counsel for his arrangement and ultimately used an existing lawyer admitted to the southern district of Florida who also sponsored a New York-based lawyer.
But it has been made more difficult because Nauta’s team has been seeking defense lawyers who have not previously worked as prosecutors, and anyone Nauta retains would also need the blessing of Trump and his own defense team, who see no need to make a decision quickly.
In fact, the people say, Trump’s preference has been for delay, a strategy that has come about from the belief that if the trial can be pushed back to after the 2024 election and should he win – Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination – the case would be moot.
At the brief, 10-minute hearing, the chief magistrate judge for the court, Edwin Torres, rescheduled Nauta’s arrangement for 6 July, after Woodward said his client had been unable to find local counsel and that he was unable to attend in court because of flight cancellations.
In recognition of the fact that Nauta’s new arrangement could delay the criminal case, prosecutors asked the magistrate judge to set a new hearing date before July 14, when all parties are due before US district court judge Aileen Cannon to set a timetable to start the discovery process.
The move by Torres to delay the arrangement for a second time was unusual, given magistrate judges have the authority to assign a federal public defender or a standby counsel to represent defendants on a one-off basis so that they can enter a plea.
Nauta was also not required to attend the arrangement in person, which raised questions about the relevance of cancellations. Privately, the people said, Woodward had wanted Nauta to meet the prospective lawyers the day before but that explanation did not address the fee dispute.
Nauta was charged by federal prosecutors earlier this month after he helped Trump remove boxes out of a storage room at the Mar-a-Lago club before Trump’s lawyer could search them for classified documents demanded by a grand jury subpoena, according to the indictment.
The steps Trump took to have the boxes removed from the storage room caused the now-recused Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran to certify a false certification to the justice department confirming that no further documents were at the property, the indictment said.
Separately, according to the indictment, Nauta lied to the FBI when he allegedly said he was unaware of how boxes of classified documents were taken to Trump’s residence before Trump agreed to return 15 boxes to the National Archives in January 2022.
“When asked whether he knew where Trump’s boxes had been stored, before they were in Trump’s residence and whether they had been in a secure or locked location, Nauta falsely responded, ‘I wish, I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. I don’t – I honestly just don’t know,’” the indictment said.
The indictment alleged Nauta lied to the FBI because he and another Trump employee at Mar-a-Lago moved the boxes.
“Nauta did in fact know that the boxes in Pine Hall had come from the storage room, as Nauta himself, with the assistance of Trump Employee 2, had moved the boxes from the storage room to Pine Hall; and Nauta had observed the boxes in and moved them to various locations,” it said.