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Special counsel suspected additional obstruction effort by Trump in classified docs case

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(NEW YORK) — Special counsel Jack Smith appears to have suspected additional efforts by former President Donald Trump to obstruct the government’s investigation of his handling of classified documents, a newly unsealed court filing revealed Tuesday.

The opinion was released as an exhibit in filings responding to Trump’s efforts to have the case dismissed, ahead of two hearings Wednesday related to his aide Walt Nauta’s efforts to dismiss the related charges against him.

Trump pleaded not guilty last June to 37 criminal counts related to his handling of classified materials after leaving the White House, after prosecutors said he repeatedly refused to return hundreds of documents containing classified information ranging from U.S. nuclear secrets to the nation’s defense capabilities, and took steps to thwart the government’s efforts to get the documents back. Nauta also pleaded not guilty to related charges.

In March of 2023, prosecutors pushed for a federal judge to compel testimony from one of Trump’s attorneys, Evan Corcoran, by presenting a previously undisclosed theory of steps they believed Trump and his associates had taken to obstruct their investigation, alleging that after Trump was informed by his attorney of a government subpoena for video footage from his Mar-a-Lago club, he then instructed aides to return several boxes they had previously removed from a storage room in the club’s basement — without being caught on camera.

According to the newly unsealed opinion, D.C. district judge Beryl Howell wrote that after Corcoran informed Trump of the subpoena for video footage on June 24, 2022, it set into motion a scramble by Nauta to change his travel plans and fly from Bedminster, New Jersey, to Palm Beach, Florida.

“The government urged that this scramble to Mar-a-Lago in the wake of the June 24, 2022 phone call reflects the former president’s realization that the removal of the boxes from the storage room before [redacted] search was captured on camera — and his attempts to ensure that any subsequent movement of the boxes back to the storage room could occur off camera,” Howell wrote.

“This theory draws support from the curious absence of any video footage showing the return of the remaining boxes to the storage room, which necessarily occurred at some point between June 3, 2022 — when the room had approximately [redacted] boxes, according to FBI agents and [redacted] — and the execution of the search warrant on August 8, 2022 — when agents counted 73 boxes,” wrote the judge.

The government previously alleged that Nauta took the trip to inquire about how long camera footage was stored. It was on that same trip, according to the indictment, that Nauta and Mar-a-Lago maintenance worker Carlos De Oliveira allegedly conspired in an attempt to delete surveillance footage.

Howell ultimately agreed the government had made a “likely” showing that Trump ordered his associates to “avoid the surveillance cameras he then understood to have been deputized by the government,” ordering Corcoran to testify about a June 24, 2022, phone call with the former president that occurred the same day the Trump Organization was subpoenaed for the footage.

The filing was just one among multiple exhibits ordered unsealed Tuesday by the district judge overseeing Trump’s case, Aileen Cannon, who has set up a controversial process opposed by Smith that has enabled Trump’s attorneys to make public evidence in the case that would typically remain under seal.

Legal experts have criticized Cannon over a series of recent rulings that have benefited Trump’s strategy to have the case delayed until after the 2024 election, including her order two weeks ago that put an indefinite hold on her scheduling a date for the trial.

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