Exclusive: Former Mar-a-Lago employee-turned-witness repeatedly contacted by Trump and associates before documents charges

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DECEMBER 12, 2023

Donald Trump and his aid Walt Nauta arrive at an airport after Trump spoke at the Georgia Republican Party’s state convention on Saturday, June 10, 2023 in Columbus, Georgia. – Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Three months after the FBI seized classified records from Mar-a-Lago last August, a longtime employee of Donald Trump’s private club quit his job.

Within days, the former president did something he rarely did – Trump called the former employee on his cell phone to ask why he was leaving after two decades of working at the resort, according to two sources and material seen by CNN.

The employee told the former president he had another business opportunity he wanted to pursue. The message later got back to the former employee that Trump thought he was a “good man.”

But he wasn’t just any staffer at the club – the former employee was a witness to several episodes special counsel Jack Smith included in his federal criminal indictment charging the former president with mishandling classified documents.

He had moved several boxes for Trump and was also privy to conversations referenced in the indictment between Trump and his two co-defendants, Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira, and Trump’s body man Walt Nauta – putting the former employee in a unique group of Mar-a-Lago staffers who could be in a position to provide valuable information to investigators.

The phone call from Trump, described to CNN by multiple people familiar with it, was part of a pattern of outreach to the former employee, who would become a key witness in the months after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago and before Trump’s June indictment. Interactions included offers of legal representation by attorneys paid for by Trump and complimentary tickets to a golf tournament, as well as repeated reminders he could come back to work for Trump.

Taken together, the incidents may have been harmless, even gracious exchanges between friends or business contacts. But the special counsel’s office investigating Trump showed interest in them. In interviews with investigators before Trump’s indictment, the former employee shared details of how associates of the former president kept in touch after he had stopped working at Mar-a-Lago, the sources told CNN.

Most of the interactions have not been previously reported and none were referenced in the criminal indictments.

Yet they highlight an under-the-radar approach long used by Trump’s business and political world to keep tabs on allies and former associates, something prosecutors and defense attorneys are still watching for as Trump’s trials approach.

A series of interactions

The former employee was particularly close to De Oliveira, and many of the interactions were with his long-time friend, who has remained loyal to Trump. The former president is paying for De Oliveira’s lawyer, according to public records.

De Oliveira had been the one who passed the former employee’s phone number to Trump upon his departure, one of the sources said.

Not long after he left his job, De Oliveira told the former Mar-a-Lago employee he was sure Trump would like to see him at an upcoming Trump-hosted golf tournament and asked if the former employee wanted complimentary tickets.

On another occasion, De Oliveira communicated to the former employee that his job was still available if he wanted to return to working at Mar-a-Lago. Nauta also told him he could come back to work at Mar-a-Lago, going so far as to show up at the former employee’s gym in person with De Oliveira, which was unusual, according to one of the sources.

A lawyer for De Oliveira didn’t respond to requests for comment, and a lawyer for Nauta declined to comment on the interactions. Attorneys for the former employee and Trump also declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the special counsel’s office.

By early 2023, the former employee found his own attorney, suspecting correctly that he might get subpoenaed by federal investigators looking into the classified documents case, the sources said. Around that time, he was still in frequent contact with De Oliveira, who brought up that the former employee wasn’t using a Trump-provided lawyer, pointing out how expensive a lawyer outside the Trump fold could be.

In another instance, John Rowley, who at the time was a top lawyer on Trump’s defense team, left a voice mail for the former employee saying he knew he had received a grand jury subpoena to testify in the documents case. Rowley asked the employee to call him, but the employee never called back. The New York Times previously made public the existence of this voicemail.

Rowley told the newspaper in an interview in September he was trying to help witnesses if they needed lawyers, and not attempting to influence testimony. Generally, corporations can find and pay for lawyers when lower-level employees are swept up as witnesses in an investigation, and it doesn’t necessarily mean ethics are being compromised.

 

Carlos De Oliveira, left, property manager of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, arrives at the Alto Lee Adams Sr. US Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, on August 10, 2023. – Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Whether Trump employees would use defense lawyers provided by the ex-president has loomed over the case. For instance, one Trump employee who cut a deal with prosecutors provided details that led to the indictment of De Oliveira only after switching from a Trump-provided lawyer to a federal public defender.

Since that episode, prosecutors in the case have taken pains to make sure Nauta, De Oliveira and other witnesses are aware of the possible conflicts of interest that could arise by having a small collection of Trump-funded attorneys represent multiple people in the case.

De Oliveira’s use of a Trump-provided lawyer was so notable to investigators they included it in their indictment, after describing his alleged part in the obstruction conspiracy with Trump and Nauta. De Oliveira took on a lawyer paid for by Trump, after Nauta and others discussed his loyalty and whether he was “good,” the indictment said.

And as De Oliveira celebrated a birthday with the former employee at a South Florida casino in August 2022, Trump called De Oliveira directly to tell him he would provide him an attorney.


Courtesy: CNN