FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — A judge on Thursday scolded federal prosecutors in the classified documents case against Donald Trump as she postponed a hearing to determine if the lawyer for one of the former president’s co-defendants had a conflict of interest.
U.S District Judge Aileen Cannon admonished prosecutors for “wasting the court’s time,” telling them they had presented arguments during Thursday’s hearing that had not been properly raised in earlier court filings.
She said she would continue the hearing at a later date for Walt Nauta, a Trump valet charged with conspiring with Trump to conceal classified documents from investigators.
Special counsel Jack Smith’s team had asked for hearings to ensure that Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira were aware of potential conflicts because their lawyers have represented other key figures in the case. Both men were charged alongside Trump with obstructing government efforts to recover classified documents hoarded at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida estate.
Prosecutors have said in court filings that the multiple representations could create a conflict by causing a lawyer to betray the confidences of a current or former client, or to “pull punches,” during cross-examination.
In Nauta’s case, his attorney, Stanley Woodward, has represented at least seven other witnesses in the probe, prosecutors say, including a Mar-a-Lago information technology worker the Justice Department says was asked to delete the surveillance video.
That individual retracted “prior false testimony” after switching lawyers, struck a cooperation deal and provided information that incriminated Trump and helped produce a new indictment in July against the former president, Nauta and De Oliveira, prosecutors have said.
During Thursday’s hearing, prosecutor David Harbach, a member of Smith’s team, said that worker would be called as a government witness and questioned — and also cross-examined — about his change in testimony.
He said it would be a conflict for Woodward, who as the worker’s former lawyer would presumably be privy to the confidences of his one-time client, to be permitted to cross-examine his client — a point Cannon said had not been previously argued.
Woodward has denied any conflict and said prosecutors have no way of knowing what he knows or doesn’t know about what his client communicated to him.
At a hearing earlier in the day, De Oliveira said under questioning from Cannon that he understood the concerns arising from his lawyer’s former representation of three government witnesses. Nonetheless, he wanted to keep his attorney, John Irving. Cannon ruled that he could.
Irving told the judge he did not foresee a conflict, saying there was nothing the witnesses — who are now represented by a new lawyer — could reveal that is not already known by the government or that would be problematic for De Oliveira.
De Oliveira is accused of lying to investigators when he claimed — falsely, prosecutors say — he hadn’t even seen boxes moved into Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House. Prosecutors say he also conspired with Trump and Nauta to try to delete surveillance footage from the property to prevent it from being turned over to the grand jury. De Oliveira has pleaded not guilty.
The criminal case is one of four Trump faces. He’s also charged in state and federal cases with scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and is accused in New York of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment made to a porn actor.
Tucker reported from Washington.