Merrick Garland Targets Top Trump Aides For Stolen Docs Testimony

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A new report from The New York Times outlines intense pressure by the Justice Department on two witnesses over their testimony — or the lack of it — in the course of investigators’ ongoing probe into the handling of documents marked classified from the Trump administration.

That investigation grew in public prominence by leaps and bounds with an early August raid by the FBI of Trump’s southern Florida property Mar-a-Lago, where agents recovered around 100 documents marked classified — despite a previously issued grand jury subpoena demanding the return of a wide array of documents with such markings. Trump lawyer Christina Bobb, who has since answered questions for investigators, signed a statement indicating the former president’s team was returning everything covered by the subpoena. Now, the department has been angling for further testimony from Trump aides Walt Nauta and Kash Patel, both of whom have worked in both the Trump administration and on Donald’s post-presidency team.

Patel has been among the former president’s representatives to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), while Nauta’s post-White House role was described in the Times as that of “something of an all-purpose aide.” Nauta is on surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago moving boxes from a contested storage area on the premises. Now, prosecutors “are using the specter of charges against him for misleading investigators to persuade him to sit again for questioning,” as the Times summarized sources’ revelations.

Patel also already appeared for questioning, but in his initial sit-down before a grand jury, he refused to answer a significant number of questions, prompting the Justice Department to seek judicial intervention forcing Patel’s hand. Patel, who was a high-ranking figure in the Defense Department as Trump’s presidency drew to a close, has also been involved in Team Trump’s public response to the documents scandal, claiming Trump declassified the materials. The Trump team has apparently not actually raised this argument in definitive terms in court.

As for Nauta, the report from the Times pointed to a variety of potential explanations for prosecutors’ concerns about his truthfulness, and sources also slightly diverged in their description of how Nauta characterized the ex-president’s role in moving scrutinized boxes. “Nauta said he had taken boxes to Mr. Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago,” the Times reported. “One person briefed on that interview said he was clear with investigators that Mr. Trump had directed him to, while another said that he was less specific about who had told him to do so, but that the implication was that it was Mr. Trump.”

Among other possibilities, Trump’s own lawyers — including Bobb and former federal prosecutor Evan Corcoran — could have been deceived, considering how emphatically they insisted upon the Trump team’s supposed cooperation with investigators. During a critical juncture after the subpoena for classified documents, when Justice Department personnel appeared at Mar-a-Lago to take possession of some of the materials, Corcoran wouldn’t let them look inside boxes within what seems like the same storage area where Nauta moved things, according to the department. Was Corcoran aware of a conspiracy to hide materials — or at least aware he wasn’t provided with the full truth?

Featured image: Gage Skidmore/ Creative Commons