Shouting match erupts at classified documents hearing as Trump and allies try to dismiss charges

Defense attorney for Trump’s valet Walt Nauta argued his possible nomination as a judge was threatened by prosecutors during an August 2022 meeting

Gustaf Kilander
Washington DC
Wednesday 22 May 2024 22:12 BST
Related video: Trump claims people are being ‘mugged and killed outside’ courthouse

A hearing in Donald Trump’s classified documents case descended into a chaotic shouting match as lawyers fought over claims of an alleged threat against a defense attorney.

In the hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida, on Wednesday morning, Walt Nauta, Mr Trump’s co-defendant and valet, asked the judge to toss the charges against him, arguing that special counsel Jack Smith’s office had vindictively and selectively charged him with criminal offenses.

Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Mr Trump, is expected to rule at a later date.

But the hearing quickly devolved into mayhem over a disagreement about an August 2022 meeting between prosecutor Jay Bratt and Mr Nauta’s defense attorney Stanley Woodward.

Mr Woodward claimed in court and in legal filings that, prior to the charges being filed, Mr Bratt had tried to convince Mr Nauta to cooperate with prosecutors against Mr Trump by threatening to affect his attorney’s possible nomination of a judgeship.

Mr Nauta argues that he was then hit with charges because he did not cooperating with the Department of Justice and its probe into Mr Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents.

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

“There was a folder about defense counsel on the table” during the meeting, he claimed, adding that Mr Bratt referenced the judgeship. “I think the implication was that I was to travel and convince Mr Nauta to cooperate with the investigation, and if I didn’t that, there would be consequences.”

Donald Trump speaks after a break during his hush money trial at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on 21 May
Donald Trump speaks after a break during his hush money trial at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on 21 May (via REUTERS)

Prosecutor David Harbach furiously denied the accusations.

“Mr Woodward’s story of what happened at that meeting is a fantasy,” he said, banging the lectern. “It did not happen.”

“This is a lawyer whose allegations amount basically to him being extorted,” he added waving his arms, before being told by Judge Cannon to “calm down”.

Judge Cannon presided over two separate hearings in the case on Wednesday – based on two separate motions, each of them seeking to dismiss charges in the federal classified documents case.

The first hearing was Mr Nauta’s while the second focused on Mr Trump’s argument that the indictment has technical problems and needs to be dismissed.

The Trump legal team has already filed several motions to try to dismiss the charges against him in the classified documents case. All have so far failed.

Judge Cannon has however already delayed Mr Trump’s trial in the case indefinitely.

It was initially scheduled to begin this week but Judge Cannon indefinitely postponed the trial on 7 May. She said that the original 20 May start date didn’t work because of the number of remaining pre-trial motions.

Boxes containing classified documents in a bathroom in Mar-a-Lago
Boxes containing classified documents in a bathroom in Mar-a-Lago (DOJ)

The delay makes it unlikely that the case will be heard before the election and, if Mr Trump wins, he’s likely to move to have all federal charges against him dropped.

Mr Trump pleaded not guilty in June to charges that he illegally retained national defense information, that he took part in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, and that he made false statements.

Prosecutors allege that he kept secret files in unsecured parts of his Mar-a-Lago home and worked to obstruct authorities trying to get them back. The files included secret documents from the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and the CIA.

Mr Trump, who is on currently on trial in New York for falsifying business records in connection to a hush money payment to an adult film star, did not attend the proceedings on Wednesday.

The former president also faces two other cases in Washington DC and Georgia for trying to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to President Joe Biden.

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