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Revised Indictment in Trump Mar-a-Lago Case: New Crime, New Defendant
Jack Smith’s superseding indictment reads like a Netflix crime drama.
IN A SURPRISING TURN, Thursday’s legal cliffhanger was not the highly anticipated indictment of Donald Trump over his involvement in the attempt to thwart the peaceful transfer of presidential power following the 2020 election culminating in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Instead, Special Counsel Jack Smith filed a “superseding” indictment—a new indictment that revises one that was previously filed—in the case pending in Florida against Trump and his aide, Waltine Nauta.
Here are the three big takeaways:
1. A New Charge
The superseding indictment adds an additional count against Trump for willful retention of national defense information. This bit of hoarded information relates specifically to a “presentation concerning military activity in a foreign country.” In an exchange at his Bedminster, New Jersey, club with two of his staff members and a writer and publisher working on Mark Meadows’s then-forthcoming book, Trump stated:
TRUMP: Well, with [the Senior Military Official]—uh, let me see that, I’ll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack [Country A]. Isn’t it amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him. They presented me this—this is off the record, but—they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him.
WRITER: Wow. . . .
TRUMP: Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. You attack, and—. . . .
TRUMP: By the way. Isn’t that incredible?
The superseding indictment does not specify which senior military official and which country were involved. But what’s clear is that the document involved military activity in a foreign country, which Trump called an “attack.” And he casually showed the document to people not cleared to see it.
2. A New Defendant
The superseding indictment adds Carlos de Oliveira, a Mar-a-Lago property manager, as a new defendant in the obstruction conspiracy charged in the original indictment. It alleges that Trump, Nauta, and de Oliveira together attempted to delete video footage at Mar-a-Lago in the summer of 2022.
The timeline laid out in the superseding indictment is the stuff of Netflix crime dramas. On June 3, 2022, when FBI agents were at Mar-a-Lago to collect some of the classified documents, they noticed surveillance cameras near a storage room. Then, on June 22, the Justice Department emailed Trump’s lawyers a draft grand jury subpoena for the production of that camera footage. The next day, on June 23, Trump allegedly called de Oliveira. They spoke for 24 minutes. The following day, on June 24, Trump’s lawyer received the official subpoena for the surveillance footage, and called the former president at 1:25 p.m. to alert him to it. At 3:44 p.m., Nauta received a text from another staff member stating that Trump wanted to see him. Less than two hours later, Nauta changed his travel schedule, diverting to Palm Beach, Florida, and telling colleagues a range of different stories as to why he was going down there.
Around the same time, Nauta and de Oliveira contacted the Mar-a-Lago director of information technology, whom the superseding indictment refers to as “Trump Employee 4,” and asked if he’s going to be around over the weekend. The next day, on Saturday, June 25, Nauta traveled from Bedminster to Palm Beach. De Oliveira allegedly told others to keep Nauta’s trip secret. At 5:46 p.m., Nauta and de Oliveira together “walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the Storage Room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”
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On Monday, June 27, de Oliveira approached Employee 4, asked him to step away from his office, and walked with him through the basement tunnel. Once inside a small room called the “audio closet,” de Oliveira allegedly told Employee 4 that “‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted.” Employee 4 said “he did not believe that he would have the rights to do that.” Later that day, at 3:55 p.m., “TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and they spoke for approximately three and a half minutes.”
The next month, in July 2022, the FBI and the grand jury finally obtained and viewed the surveillance footage. But that wasn’t the end of the cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Two weeks after the FBI’s August 8, 2022, execution of a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, Nauta called another employee—identified as “Trump Employee 5”—and said something to the effect of, “someone just wants to make sure Carlos [de Oliveira] is good.” Employee 5 responded that de Oliveira is loyal and “would not do anything to affect his relationship with TRUMP.” In a Signal group chat, Employee 5 confirmed with Nauta that de Oliveira was loyal.
Then this: “That same day, TRUMP called DE OLIVEIRA and told DE OLIVEIRA that TRUMP would get DE OLIVEIRA an attorney.”
3. Lies and Legal Bills
The superseding indictment charges that, when asked during an FBI interview about boxes of White House documents at Mar-a-Lago, de Oliveira repeatedly lied about his knowledge, saying he “Never saw anything. . . . Never. . . . Never saw nothing.” That was allegedly a bald-faced lie.
So far, neither Nauta nor de Oliveira appear to be cooperating with prosecutors, instead sticking with Trump, who at a minimum may be promising to foot their legal bills (he can’t issue pardons anymore, but is probably dangling one if he wins in 2024). But Smith’s team has the surveillance footage and the testimony of multiple other employees to prove the government’s case. It rarely gets this good for the prosecution.
For Trump, his best defense is delay. Judge Aileen Cannon set the trial in May 2024. The superseding indictment could give Trump’s lawyers grounds to move it past the November 2024 election, which is presumably what their client wants.
Cannon also chose to hold the trial where she usually sits—in the Fort Pierce Division of the Southern District of Florida, which is solid Trump country. If Trump’s lawyers can persuade one juror to ignore the facts out of fealty to the man—much like Nauta and de Oliveira allegedly did, to their detriment—Trump could, once again, get away with it.
For now, that episode in the series has yet to be written.