Hearing sheds light on how Mar-a-Lago worker implicated Trump and valet

<span>Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP</span>
Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP
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When the technology director at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club implicated the former US president and his valet in a scheme to erase subpoenaed security camera footage in the classified documents case, it was the culmination of weeks of talks with prosecutors about an immunity deal.

The employee – identified as “Trump Employee 4” in the superseding indictment but named by people familiar with the matter as Yuscil Taveras – became crucial to special counsel prosecutors over several weeks in July after he decided to cooperate with the criminal investigation.

The broad timeline for how quickly Taveras became a cooperating witness against Trump and others has been previously reported. But the specific dates of how it unfolded were revealed for the first time at a court hearing on Thursday.

At issue was Taveras’s testimony to the grand jury. Initially, he testified that he did not recall any conversations about deleting surveillance footage of boxes of classified documents being moved around the club. But by late June, prosecutors developed evidence to the contrary.

That prompted prosecutors in the office of special counsel Jack Smith to notify Taveras with a so-called target letter that he was at risk of criminal charges because they believed he had committed perjury in his grand jury testimony.

But prosecutors were concerned about the legal situation surrounding Taveras, and asked the chief US district judge in Washington to schedule a hearing to address the fact that he was represented by Stanley Woodward, a lawyer paid for by Trump who also represented Trump’s valet Walt Nauta.

At the hearing on 5 July, Taveras conferred with an independent “conflicts counsel” about his legal exposure. What the conflicts counsel advised Taveras is uncertain, but the independent lawyer raised the prospect of an immunity deal for Taveras in exchange for his cooperation.

Prosecutors were noncommittal about an immunity deal for Taveras that day, though they had him appear on 10 July for a proffer session – where potential targets of a criminal investigation provide useful information on the guarantee that it will not be used against them.

The proffer session appears to have revealed the allegedly incriminating evidence, that Nauta pressured Taveras to delete the security tapes on Trump’s orders, which formed the basis for additional counts of obstruction of justice in a superseding indictment.

Three days later, on 13 July, prosecutors offered Taveras a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for him to change his testimony before the grand jury. Taveras, advised by his new lawyer, signed the deal on 19 July and changed his grand jury testimony on 20 July.

Those specific dates in July surfaced at a court hearing before the US district judge Aileen Cannon when she ticked through the facts of the classified documents case at a hearing to assess the extent of Woodward’s potential conflicts of interest defending Nauta at trial.

Prosecutors had asked for the conflicts hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida, because Woodward’s prior work defending Taveras meant he had “divided loyalties” to his current client Nauta and previous client Taveras – and might therefore be unable to defend Nauta as vigorously as possible.

The conflicts hearing had originally been scheduled to take place the week before. But the judge abruptly postponed the hearing after admonishing prosecutors for raising new arguments that they had not included in their legal briefs.

At the rescheduled hearing, the judge asked Nauta whether he still wanted to proceed with Woodward as his trial lawyer, warning him that he could not later argue that his Sixth amendment right to conflict-free counsel was violated were he to be convicted.

“I understand the conflicts with ‘Trump Employee 4’ and ‘Witness 1’ and how that could inhibit me,” Nauta told the judge, “but I still choose Mr Woodward as my lawyer.” Cannon accepted his waiver without further questions.