The latest charges against Trump answer one question and raise several more

News analysis: The superseding indictment against Donald Trump and his co-defendants shows the Department of Justice probe has gone deeper into his activities than previously thought, with potentially catastrophic consequences for his defence

Andrew Feinberg
Friday 28 July 2023 21:30 BST
All the times Trump made statements about voter fraud

The new allegations revealed in the Justice Department’s superseding indictment of former president Donald Trump show that Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team have built a far stronger case than previously thought.

On Thursday, the department announced that it had filed the updated charging document, which added several new counts against Mr Trump and Walt Nauta, his longtime valet and co-defendant.

But what got most of the media attention after the early-evening document filing was the addition of yet another co-defendant in the case, Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira.

Mr De Oliveira, who had been previously identified in the first indictment against Mr Trump and Mr Nauta as a Mar-a-Lago employee who had participated in moving boxes containing classified documents around the Palm Beach mansion turned social club, is charged along with Mr Trump and Mr Nauta with conspiring to obstruct justice.

According to the superseding indictment, Mr Trump allegedly called Mr De Oliveira on 23 June of last year, one day after prosecutors emailed his company a draft grand jury subpoena calling for the production of CCTV camera footage from the club, including locations where boxes containing classified documents were stored.

It’s not known exactly what Mr Trump said to his new co-defendant during the 24-minute phone call, but prosecutors allege that at some point Mr Trump ordered the deletion of security camera footage so it could not be used to further the probe into his possession of documents with classification markings after the end of his presidency.

The next day, prosecutors served the Trump Organization with the final version of the subpoena, and Mr Trump is alleged to have met with Mr Nauta, who subsequently cancelled plans to travel with Mr Trump and instead arranged travel to Palm Beach.

After the former US Navy Chief Petty Officer changed his plans, prosecutors allege that he lied to fellow employees and Secret Service agents about the purpose of his travel.

At the same time, he contacted another Mar-a-Lago employee who served as director of information technology at the club, as well as another Mar-a-Lago worker, and disclosed to the latter that his purpose in visiting the club was to discuss how long CCTV footage was stored.

Prosecutors also allege that Mr Nauta and Mr De Oliveira actually walked through the darkened club after Mr Nauta arrived there on 25 June, with flashlights to determine where different security cameras were located.

Mr De Oliveira, who has also been charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, subsequently told the aforementioned Mar-a-Lago employee that “the boss” wanted the footage deleted before it could be provided to the grand jury investigating the presence of classified documents at the club. The longtime Mar-a-Lago worker is also charged with lying to FBI agents about his role in assisting in the moving of boxes containing classified documents at different points during the investigation.

The new charges revealed in the superseding indictment show the extent of Mr Trump’s efforts to conceal what he was doing from the government he once led, but it also makes clear that Mr Smith’s team has taken their investigation into the ex-president and his co-defendants up a notch from what was previously known.

For one, prosecutors have added a new charge of unlawfully retaining national defence information concerning the alleged war plans with Iran that he allegedly waved around during a taped conversation in July 2021 at his New Jersey golf club.

Prosecutors revealed that the document in question was one that was turned over to the government when Mr Trump’s team allowed the National Archives to retrieve 15 boxes of documents from his Florida club in early 2022.

The confirmation that such a document existed, according to legal experts, blows a huge hole in Mr Trump’s defence because he can no longer claim, as he has done in recent interviews, that he was not waving a highly classified document about during that meeting two years ago.

But there’s more in the new charges that should cause Mr Trump to stop and think before he opens his mouth in public — or in private.

In one paragraph buried in the middle of the 53-page charging document, prosecutors allege that Mr Trump actually telephoned Mr De Oliveira roughly two weeks after the FBI searched his property, on 26 August 2022.

During that phone call, prosecutors say that the ex-president told his future co-defendant that he would arrange for him to have legal representation.

It’s possible that there were other people present and overheard the conversation between Mr Trump and Mr Oliveira, and it’s also possible that those people were subsequently interviewed by investigators and spoke about what they’d heard.

But there’s another way prosecutors could have obtained the information laid out in the superseding indictment — they could have listened to the phone call as it happened.

In the court documents that have been made public so far, Mr Smith’s team has laid out a great deal of information, but they have not revealed whether they have any knowledge of what Mr Trump was doing or planned to do with the sensitive government secrets he hoarded at his beach club and possibly other properties.

One way of determining the ex-president’s intentions would have been to obtain a warrant to eavesdrop on his conversations, and given the national security implications of Mr Smith’s probe, it’s hard to imagine that investigators would not have had cause to seek one.

Prosecutors would eventually have to disclose the existence of a wiretap to Mr Trump, but even if they did, the ex-president wouldn’t be able to publicly speak about it because of a protective order that prohibits him from publicly discussing the evidence provided to him as part of the discovery process.

But either way, the ex-president and his lawyers can’t be feeling good about what has now been revealed, because there is certainly much more left to come out.

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