Mar-a-Lago staffer changes story, gets non-Trump attorney in classified documents case

August 23, 2023

How likely is it that more of Trump's co-defendants will switch representation to non-Trump affiliated attorneys before the classified documents case goes to trial?

A key witness in the federal classified documents case against former President Trump and two aides has has retracted his grand jury testimony after dropping a Trump-affiliated attorney.

The witness is described as “Trump Employee 4” in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s superseding indictment in the case. He’s since been identified as Yuscil Taveras, a Mar-a-Lago staffer who oversaw the surveillance camera footage at Trump’s country club estate. 

Taveras had initially testified to a grand jury in Washington DC that he was unaware of any effort to erase surveillance videos. 

However, according to new court filing, after getting a new, non-Trump affiliated attorney, he “immediately…retracted his prior false testimony” and described alleged efforts to tamper with the video, which is subpoenaed evidence related to the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents post-Presidency.

Smith’s team revealed the details of Taveras’ turnaround as part of a filing demanded by Florida-based U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the criminal case. The new submission came after Cannon questioned why prosecutors had continued collecting evidence from a grand jury empaneled in DC even though Smith had obtained an initial indictment in Florida. 

Smith has since informed Cannon that the DC grand jury officially completed its work August 17.

Altogether between the initial and superseding indictments, Trump is facing a total of 40 criminal counts in the classified documents case, including 31 counts for willful retention of national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act as well as obstruction and other charges. 

Trump aides Walt Nauta and Carlos de Oliveira are also charged in the case.

According to the superseding indictment, in June 2022 shortly after the government demanded the surveillance footage as part of its inquiry, Trump called De Oliveira, a Mar-a-Lago property manager, and they spoke for 24 minutes.

That indictment states that two days later Nauta and De Oliveira “went to the security guard booth where surveillance video is displayed on monitors, walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the storage room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

A few days after that, “Trump Employee 4” (Taveras) spoke in a small room with De Oliveira at Mar-a-Lago called the “audio closet.” Amid their conversation, De Oliveira said, “‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted,” referring to the computer server holding the security footage.

Taveras responded that he didn’t know how to—and also that he didn’t believe he had the “rights” to delete it. 

It was two months later, on August 8, that FBI agents conducted a search warranted raid on Mar-a-Lago and seized at least 100 classified documents.

According to this week’s new court filing, which was signed by Assistant Special Counsel David Harbach, “The Government anticipates calling Trump Employee 4 as a trial witness and expects that he will testify to conduct alleged in the superseding indictment regarding efforts to delete security footage.”

Referring to Taveras’ former Trump-affiliated attorney Stanley Woodward, who’s also representing Nauta,  the filing states, “Trump Employee 4 will very likely face cross-examination about his prior inconsistent statements in his grand jury testimony, which occurred while Mr. Woodward represented him, and which he disavowed immediately after obtaining new counsel.”

Harbach further asserted that Woodward appeared to be stoking concerns about the DC grand jury to gain a “tactical advantage” for both Nauta and Trump “by excluding highly incriminating evidence.”

A Trump PAC (political action committee) is paying Woodward’s legal fees, which Harbach asserts raises “potential conflicts.” 

The attorney did not immediately respond to reporters’ request for comment. 

Trump, Nauta and DeOliveira have all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in the classified documents case.

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