New charges — and a new defendant — added to the classified documents case against former President Donald Trump underscore how the Mar-a-Lago investigation is still very much ongoing, even as the focus has been on an expected indictment in a separate case related to the 2020 election.
In an updated indictment handed down on Thursday, prosecutors allege that Trump asked a staffer to delete camera footage at his Florida estate in an effort to obstruct the federal investigation into his possession of classified documents.
The indictment includes new counts of obstruction and wilful retention of national defence information. Prosecutors also added a third defendant to the case: Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira, who they say schemed with Trump and his valet, Walt Nata, to conceal the footage from investigators.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and a spokesperson dismissed the new charges as “nothing more than a continued desperate and flailing attempt” by the Biden administration “to harass President Trump and those around him” and to influence the 2024 presidential race.
Here’s the latest on Trump’s new charges and where his other legal cases stand:
The new indictment alleges that Trump demanded that security footage at his Mar-a-Lago estate be deleted after investigators visited in June 2022 to collect classified documents he took with him after the left the White House.
The indictment says that in late June 2022, De Oliveira took another employee to a small room known as an “audio closet” and told the other employee the conversation should remain between the two of them. De Oliveira asked the employee how many days the server retained surveillance footage and said “the boss” wanted the server deleted. When the employee said he didn’t believe he was able to do that, De Oliveira insisted the “boss” wanted it done, asking, “What are we going to do?”
The coded language and talk about needing to carry out the boss’ wishes is reminiscent of how others, including former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, have described life inside Trump’s inner circle. Once Trump’s fixer, Cohen has likened Trump to a mob boss, who would bully others into doing his bidding but would speak in “code” and never directly tell them to do something wrong.
Cohen, who served time in prison in another special counsel’s investigation, testified as a key prosecution witness in the unrelated New York hush-money case against Trump. An attorney for De Oliveira declined to comment Thursday.
The new charges against Trump include an additional count of wilfully retaining national defence information related to a presentation about military activity in another country. Investigators say Trump showed off that document during July 2021 meeting at his Bedminster, New Jersey, resort with the writer and publisher of the memoir of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows. Details about that document and the meeting were included in the original indictment, but none of the charges had related to it until now.
Trump had returned that document to the government on January 17, 2022 — nearly a year after he left office, according to the indictment.
Bringing the charge marks a shift in the prosecution’s approach, with the Justice Department charging him with holding onto a document they say he knew was highly sensitive after he left office, but returned to the government before the FBI opened its criminal investigation in March 2022.
The charges Trump was already facing stemmed from documents prosecutors say Trump was illegally hoarding at Mar-a-Lago after the federal grand jury investigation began.
Prosecutors allege that during the July 2021 meeting at Bedminster, Trump had waved around the classified attack plan to his guests. “This is secret information,” he said, according to a recording cited in the documents, claiming that, “as president I could have declassified it” but hadn’t.
Trump has since denied he had secret documents before him when he spoke. The addition of a third defendant could impact the trial date, which has already been a source of contention in the case.
Trump’s lawyers have claimed that he can’t get a fair trial before the 2024 election, while prosecutors had wanted the case to go to trial in December.
US District Judge Aileen Cannon, in a compromise last week, scheduled the trial to begin in May. If it holds that date could mean a trial will not start until deep into the presidential nominating calendar, and probably well after the Republican nominee is clear — although before that person is officially nominated at the Republican National Convention. But adding De Oliveira to the case may lead to that getting pushed back.
“It will be just about impossible to keep all of the scheduled deadlines with a new defendant coming in,” said David Oscar Markus, a criminal defence attorney in Miami who is not involved in the case.
In a separate court filing on Thursday, prosecutors wrote that the new charges “should not disturb” the May trial date, “and the Special Counsel’s Office is taking steps related to discovery and security clearances to ensure that it does not do so.”
But Trump will likely use the new charges — and new evidence prosecutors say they have against him — in a renewed effort to delay the trial.
News of the indictment came just hours after Trump’s attorneys met with members of special counsel Jack Smith’s team ahead of the expected indictment over the former president’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden. Trump said on his Truth Social network that his attorneys “had a productive meeting” and that “no indication of notice was given during the meeting.”
Trump disclosed earlier this month that he had received a letter from the Justice Department advising him that he was a target of the agency’s election-related investigation. Such letters often precede criminal charges.
The status of the secretive grand jury proceedings remained unclear Thursday, despite building speculation that a criminal case could be near. In a sign of heightened expectations, police officers were photographed gathered outside the courthouse.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said any indictments resulting from her two-year investigation into whether Trump and his allies illegally meddled in the 2020 election in Georgia would likely come next month.
In October, a civil trial is scheduled to begin in New York state court, where New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued Trump and the Trump Organization, alleging they misled banks and tax authorities about the value of assets including golf courses and skyscrapers to get loans and tax benefits.
Trump scheduled to stand trial in March in a New York hush money case. He’s pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, which are linked to a series of checks that were written to his lawyer Michael Cohen to reimburse him for his role in paying off porn actor Stormy Daniels, who alleged a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
- An AP report