Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Prosecutor calls bias claims a ‘fantasy’ during Mar-a-Lago hearing

A federal judge heard new arguments Wednesday for dismissing charges in the classified documents case against Donald Trump and two employees.

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (CN) — Federal prosecutors battled accusations of bias during a heated hearing Wednesday in the classified documents case against Donald Trump and two of his employees.

Defense attorney Stanley Woodward claimed special counsel Jack Smith’s office charged his client, Walt Nauta, with obstruction to punish him for refusing to testify against the former president during a grand jury proceeding.

He further claimed prosecutors tried to coerce him into convincing Nauta, Trump's aide, to turn state’s witness during their first meeting in August 2022.

Prosecutor David Harbach called Woodward’s story a "fantasy.”

Woodward leveled his claims during a two-hour hearing held Wednesday morning at a federal courthouse in Fort Pierce. An afternoon hearing addressed a second motion to dismiss the indictment for failing to adequately explain the charges.

Trump is accused of mishandling classified documents stored at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. When federal authorities sought their return, prosecutors say that he ordered his employees, Nauta and property manager Carlos De Oliveira, to hide the documents.

The defendants have filed a slew of motions in recent months challenging the historic case, claiming, among other things, the president is immune and the indictment is unconstitutionally vague.

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon indefinitely postponed the trial — which was originally scheduled to begin this week — and has instead scheduled a slate of hearings to address the defense’s motions.

Nauta’s motion filed in April claimed his charges should be dismissed for prosecutorial bias. The Navy veteran argued in the motion the special counsel’s office indicted him as punishment for refusing to fully cooperate with the investigation into his boss.

Nauta agreed to be interviewed by FBI agents and complied with a subpoena for his cellphones during the investigation, but he refused to testify before a federal grand jury, which led to the charges, he wrote.

Woodward, a D.C. attorney at Brand Woodward, argued at Wednesday’s hearing his client was unfairly punished for exercising his constitutional right against self-incrimination. He pointed to the fact that other Trump employees moved boxes that contained classified materials, but they were never charged.

Harbach countered that there was no evidence to show other employees coordinated with their boss like Nauta did, first by hiding the boxes and then attempting to destroy security footage of the crime.

Woodward accused Jay Bratt, an assistant to special counsel Jack Smith, of impropriety during a meeting on Aug. 24, 2022. Woodward claims in court filings that Bratt mentioned his application for a federal judgeship during the meeting and warned he “wouldn’t want to do anything to mess that up.”

Three other prosecutors who attended the meeting denied Bratt made the comment and Woodward didn’t raise any concerns about the meeting until June 2023 — nearly a year later. By then, Trump’s attorneys had filed a motion asking a federal judge in D.C. to postpone his indictment, claiming Bratt’s comment was evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

Woodward told Cannon, a Trump appointee, on Wednesday he didn’t raise the issue sooner because he believed it should be addressed in the courtroom.

“We try our cases in court,” he said. “I’m a big boy — I can take it.”

Harbach said Woodward’s claims were not only false, but irrelevant to the motion. Nauta needed to prove prosecutors were vindictive toward him, not his defense attorney.

Cannon asked Harbach pointed questions about other comments Bratt purportedly made at the meeting, including a threat that Nauta’s lavish lifestyle of “private planes and golf clubs” was coming to an end.

Harbach consulted with Bratt, seated at the prosecutor’s table, before telling the judge the quotes were fragmentary and taken out of context. Todd Blanche, a New York attorney representing Trump, smirked from the defense’s table.

Cannon heard arguments in the afternoon on a second motion to dismiss the indictment for insufficient pleading. Woodward told Cannon the indictment was “prejudicial and confusing” as he detailed issues with the wording of several obstruction-related offenses filed against his client.

Prosecutors argued the issues could be addressed in jury instructions.

Cannon did not immediately rule on either motion.

Follow @SteveGarrisonPC
Categories / Courts, Criminal, Politics

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.

Loading...