Prosecutors examine handling of security footage by Trump aides in documents case

Mar-a-Lago, the residence of former President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida on April 4, 2023. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

Mar-a-Lago, the residence of former President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida on April 4, 2023. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

For the past six months, prosecutors working for Special Counsel Jack Smith have sought to determine whether former President Donald Trump obstructed government efforts to recover a trove of classified documents he took from the White House. .

More recently, investigators also appear to be looking into a related question: whether Trump and some of his aides sought to interfere with the government’s attempt to obtain security camera footage of Mar-a-Lago that could shed light. how these documents were stored and who had access to them.

The search for answers to this second problem has plunged investigators into the bowels of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Florida, as they ask questions of a growing number of low-level workers in the compound, according to people. familiar with the matter. Some of the workers played a role in securing boxes of materials in a storage room at Mar-a-Lago or maintaining video footage from a security camera mounted outside the room.

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Two weeks ago, the last of those employees, a computer scientist named Yuscil Taveras, appeared before a grand jury in Washington, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Taveras was asked about his relationship with two other Trump employees: Walt Nauta, a longtime Trump aide who served as one of his White House valets, and Carlos Deoliveira, described by a person familiar with the events. as the chief of maintenance at Mar-à-Lago.

Phone records show Deoliveira called Taveras last summer, and prosecutors wanted to know why. The call caught the government’s attention because it was placed shortly after prosecutors issued a subpoena to Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, demanding the CCTV footage near the venue. of storage.

The call also came just weeks after Deoliveira helped Nauta move boxes of documents into the storage room – the same room Deoliveira once had with a lock. The movement of the boxes in the room took place at another key moment: the day before prosecutors descended on Mar-a-Lago for a meeting with Trump’s lawyers intended to make him comply with a request for restitution from all classified documents.

The Trump Organization eventually turned over the surveillance tapes, but Smith’s prosecutors appear to be investigating whether anyone in Trump’s orbit tried to limit the amount of government-produced footage.

They asked Taveras an open-ended question to find out if anyone had asked if the surveillance system footage could be deleted.

It remains unclear what investigators learned while questioning Taveras before the grand jury and whether they were able to make any progress in their efforts to determine whether steps were taken to interfere with the release of the surveillance tapes.

But the focus on the tapes is Smith’s latest effort to determine whether Trump or his aides engaged in some kind of obstructive behavior. Prosecutors are investigating whether the former president actually played games with government officials at different agencies for more than a year – including the Justice Department, which issued a subpoena for all classified documents in possession from Trump last May, and the National Archives, which sought to recover tons of Trump presidential files he kept after leaving office, some of which included classified documents.

There is no indication that Taveras is the subject of Smith’s investigation. His attorney, Stanley Woodward Jr., declined to comment.

Deoliveira’s attorney, John Irving, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The three men – Taveras, Deoliveira and Nauta – were questioned at length by prosecutors about their role in handling the boxes and tapes. Trump aides argue that nothing nefarious took place and that the activities prosecutors are treating with suspicion were simply part of efforts to comply with subpoenas or were routine conversations that took place without the participants know in some cases of the existence of subpoenas issued by the Department of Justice for security footage and for classified documents in Trump’s possession.

Nonetheless, a person briefed on the events said the interactions regarding the security tapes were enough to arouse the suspicions of Smith’s investigators. Additionally, people briefed on the witness interviews say it has become clear that Smith views a number of Trump-linked people with skepticism.

Irving and the attorney representing Nauta and Taveras, Woodward, are paid by Trump’s political action committee, Save America, which itself was vetted by Smith’s team. Prosecutors are investigating whether the group raised money from donors saying it would be targeted for legal challenges to the 2020 election, but Trump aides knew it lost.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday a conversation between an unnamed computer scientist and an unnamed maintenance worker at Mar-a-Lago.

Taveras’ grand jury appearance was not the first time Smith’s team focused on the issue of how Mar-a-Lago’s security tapes were handled. Prosecutors also issued subpoenas to Matthew Calamari Sr. and his son, Matthew Calamari Jr., who have long overseen the Trump Organization’s security concerns.

Prosecutors sent separate subpoenas to the company seeking surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago, people familiar with the matter said. The first such subpoena was issued last June, and since then prosecutors have issued several other subpoenas for a wider range of footage, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Prosecutors appear to have researched the footage in order to get a clearer picture of the movement of document boxes at Mar-a-Lago. But there were gaps in the footage, the person said, and prosecutors also looked into whether someone intentionally stopped the tape or whether technological issues caused the gap.

Prosecutors also subpoenaed a software company that handles all of the Trump Organization’s surveillance footage, including at Mar-a-Lago, The New York Times previously reported.

Smith’s team’s attempts to get to the bottom of what was going on with the boxes and tapes reflect a fundamental challenge prosecutors have faced since the documents investigation began: the post-presidential world of Trump at Mar-a-Lago is just as much of a hodgepodge of loyalists and other officials as his chaotic White House was, and those around him most at his private club are employees he works with. has developed direct personal relationships over the years.

Nauta was a military aide serving as Trump’s White House valet, requiring a level of intimate closeness to the president that few staffers develop. After the end of the Trump administration, Nauta retired from the military and went to work directly for Trump. And Deoliveira has parked cars at the club before, a Trump aide said.

Prior to working on Mar-a-Lago’s information systems, Taveras managed them at the Trump International Hotel and Tower and the Trump SoHo Hotel, according to his LinkedIn page.

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