Newly unsealed grand jury testimony from Trump’s valet helps explain FBI’s desire to search Mar-a-Lago

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Donald Trump’s valet told investigators before the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago in 2022 that he randomly chose boxes of documents to return to the National Archives and Trump himself directed that dozens more boxes located at the resort wouldn’t be returned, according to recently unsealed court filings.

The filings reviewed by CNN shed new light on the critical role that Walt Nauta, now Trump’s co-defendant in the classified documents case, played in giving the FBI justification to execute the search warrant on the former president’s Florida resort.

Nauta testified to a grand jury two months before the August 2022 search about boxes he took from Mar-a-Lago’s storage room in January 2022.

When one grand juror asked Nauta if he would “just pick some off the top,” Nauta said “yes,” according to a newly unsealed transcript and unredacted FBI search warrant affidavit.

At one point in the process of choosing boxes for Trump to review before returning them to the Archives, Nauta said that Trump “was like, okay, that’s it.”

Nauta’s account was corroborated by a second witness, whose identity is not publicly known. Both said that Trump gave the direction not to give the National Archives any more boxes.

The recently unsealed filings show that investigators spoke to dozens of witnesses and obtained information about the inner workings at Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s White House that were not included in the initial charging documents against Trump and Nauta but could be used at trial. In particular, the filings add to the picture around how the FBI knew there were additional boxes at Trump’s club that likely contained classified records.

Trump has been charged by special counsel Jack Smith with criminal mishandling of national security records and attempting to obstruct justice after the federal government subpoenaed their return. Nauta and another co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, were indicted as co-conspirators to obstructing justice. All three have pleaded not guilty. A trial date has not yet been set.

The newly unredacted Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit and Nauta’s grand jury testimony were included in court filings as part of several challenges Trump and Nauta are making against Smith’s case.

Nauta, who eventually stopped cooperating with the special counsel, is now claiming he was selectively and vindictively prosecuted because he refused to return to the grand jury for another round of testimony unless certain conditions were met, according to court pleadings he has made in the case that the judge is still considering.

Nauta’s attorney declined to comment for this story. Trump’s attorneys, some of whom are currently defending him in the ongoing Manhattan criminal trial related to hush money payments, also did not offer comment.

Nauta’s grand jury testimony could become a notable part of an eventual trial against Trump. Even if Nauta refuses to testify, prosecutors could seek to use his grand jury statements about Trump in their presentation to a jury.

The criminal investigation into the mishandling of classified information began after the Archives reviewed the initial 15 boxes it retrieved from Mar-a-Lago and was alarmed by the sensitive government records that Archives officials found in them.

Trump’s attorneys responded to a subpoena for all documents bearing classified markings at the resort by handing over an envelope of materials in June 2022. At the time, one of his lawyers signed a statement asserting that a “diligent search” had been done of the boxes to locate all such documents.

In the affidavit for the Mar-a-Lago search weeks later, investigators pointed to what Justice Department and FBI officials observed at the resort when they picked up the in addition to the statements from Nauta and another witness, to explain how they concluded there were far more boxes of sensitive Trump White House records than the 15 that had been picked up by the National Archives.

The witnesses’ statements, the FBI told the court at the time, indicated that boxes of records were haphazardly chosen to return to the National Archives and that Trump himself directed that dozens more boxes wouldn’t be returned.

Nauta was referred to as “Witness 5” in the warrant but can be identified by comparing the affidavit to the transcript from his June 2022 grand jury appearance that was unsealed in recent days, as well as to other details that have come out in the criminal proceedings.

In the affidavit, the FBI said that Nauta and others had “collected the fifteen boxes from the storage room to the entryway of FPOTUS’ personal residential suite” at Mar-a-Lago so Trump could personally review them. (FPOTUS refers to “former President the United States.”)

“Even though there were far more FPOTUS boxes than the fifteen boxes, FPOTUS did not review the remainder of the FPOTUS boxes before the NARA pickup,” the FBI agent wrote to the court to justify the search.

According to the affidavit, the Justice Department sought from the Trump Organization Mar-a-Lago’s surveillance footage in the immediate days after Nauta’s grand jury testimony. The footage captured Nauta moving boxes around the resort in the days before and after a Trump attorney was set to review the boxes for classified material that had been subpoenaed in the investigation.

The FBI told the court that its review of the footage showed that “Witness 5” had moved more than 60 boxes from Mar-a-Lago’s storage room but only returned less than half of them, before the attorney’s review of the boxes in that room.

After Nauta gave the grand jury testimony, the Trump aide replaced his initial attorney with one provided to him through Trump-world.

That new attorney, Stanley Woodward, rebuffed a demand from prosecutors that Nauta return to the grand jury for more testimony because prosecutors refused to offer Nauta the ability to testify under conditions that would protect him from charges, according to the court record.

In a separate set of filings made public in the Florida federal court case, Nauta also is asking US District Judge Aileen Cannon to throw out evidence that prosecutors obtained in searches of his phone and email accounts. He claims that the FBI mischaracterized in warrant affidavits his statements to the grand jury in order to assert that he had lied in the investigation.

Nauta also claims that the subpoena was invalid and that he had no knowledge at the time that his movement of the boxes had any link to the subpoena’s demands.

The special counsel’s office said in a court filing that Nauta’s pushback to the affidavits is “implausible.”

Federal prosecutors advised a judge in writing last week they would continue to make public updated versions of the Mar-a-Lago search documentation as they make more disclosures in the criminal case.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at