FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — The federal judge overseeing the classified documents case against Donald Trump was holding a hearing on Friday about a potential conflict of interest involving a co-defendant’s lawyer.
Prosecutors say lawyer Stanley Woodward, who represents Trump valet Walt Nauta, has a conflict because he previously represented an information technology specialist who’s expected to be a key government witness at trial and represents another person who may be called to testify.
Nauta is charged along with the Republican former president with scheming to conceal classified government documents from federal investigators. The prosecutors want to ensure at Friday’s hearing that Nauta understands the situation with his lawyer and knowingly forfeits his right to conflict-free legal representation.
Prosecutors have described the witness as an IT director at Trump’s Palm Beach complex, Mar-a-Lago, who was asked to delete surveillance video there in an apparent effort to obstruct the federal investigation. The witness retracted “prior false testimony” after switching lawyers last summer from Woodward to an attorney in the federal defender’s office, prosecutors have said. The IT specialist has since struck a cooperation agreement with prosecutors and is expected to be a witness as the case proceeds to a trial next May.
The hearing was supposed to take place last week, but U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon postponed it after it began, scolding prosecutors for making arguments she said had not been properly raised in court filings. It was rescheduled for Friday.
Since then, Woodward has told special counsel Jack Smith’s team that he does not intend to cross-examine the witness he used to represent, according to a filing this week from prosecutors. Prosecutors had argued that it would have been unethical for him to do so, potentially causing him to violate a former client’s confidences or pull punches while trying to discredit the witness’ testimony, as defense lawyers do.
Last week, Cannon ruled that another co-defendant, Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira, could keep his attorney after he said that he understood the potential conflicts arising from his lawyer’s prior representation of three potential government witnesses.
Trump, Nauta and De Oliveira have pleaded not guilty. A spokesperson for Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, says the case is part of a “desperate and flailing attempt” by Democrats to harass him and to influence the White House contest.
Tucker reported from Washington.
Adriana Gomez Licon And Eric Tucker, The Associated Press