Federal prosecutors on Thursday expanded the indictment against Donald Trump for retaining national security documents and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them, unveiling new charges against him and an employee over an attempt to destroy surveillance footage.
The new charges – filed by the special counsel Jack Smith in Florida – were outlined in a superseding indictment that named Mar-a-Lago club maintenance worker Carlos De Oliveira as the third co-defendant in the case. Trump’s valet Walt Nauta was previously indicted for obstruction with the former president last month.
Trump’s legal exposure in the classified documents case grew after he was accused of attempting to destroy evidence, inducing someone else to destroy evidence, as well as an additional count under the Espionage Act for retaining a classified document about US plans to attack Iran that he discussed on tape at his Bedminster club in New Jersey.
The expanded indictment added a new section titled “The Attempt to Delete Security Camera Footage” that alleged in detail how Trump engaged in a scheme with Nauta and De Oliveira to wipe a server containing surveillance footage that prosecutors subpoenaed which showed boxes of classified documents being removed from the storage room.
According to the indictment, Trump seemingly instructed Nauta to unexpectedly travel to Mar-a-Lago to have the tapes destroyed. Nauta then enlisted the help of De Oliveira, and they walked to a security booth where the camera angles were displayed on monitors before walking down to the cameras and pointing them out with flashlights.
The following week, De Oliveira asked the director of IT at Mar-a-Lago, described as “Trump Employee 4” but understood to be Yuscil Taveras, how long surveillance footage was stored for and then told him “the boss” wanted the server deleted.
When the director of IT replied that he did not know how to delete the server and suggested De Oliveira ask the security supervisor at the Trump Organization, De Olivera again insisted that “the boss” wanted the server deleted, the indictment said.
De Oliveira’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For months, prosecutors in the office of the special counsel have viewed the surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago as key to the case because it showed Nauta removing boxes of classified documents out of the storage room just before Trump’s lawyer was scheduled to search for any classified documents after receiving a subpoena.
The close detail about the scheme to delete the server added to the evidence of Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct the criminal investigation by concealing classified documents from that Trump lawyer, Evan Corcoran.
Trump asked Corcoran something to the effect of “What happens if we just don’t respond at all?” and “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”, according to Corcoran’s notes that prosecutors obtained during the investigation.
Ordinarily off limits to prosecutors, the notes came before the Washington grand jury hearing evidence in the case after a US appeals court pierced the attorney-client privilege Trump would otherwise have and ordered Corcoran to turn them over.
Corcoran then told Trump that he would return on 2 June 2022 to look in the Mar-a-Lago storage room for documents. In the intervening period, the indictment said, Trump instructed Nauta to remove boxes containing classified documents from where Corcoran intended to search.
Corcoran recounted in his notes that Trump also made a “funny motion” when they were discussing whether Corcoran should take the 38 documents back with him to his hotel. As Corcoran described it, Trump seemed to indicate he should “pluck” any documents that were “bad”, without saying it explicitly.
The former president faces more than three dozen total charges in the case, including more than 30 violations of the Espionage Act. His trial is set for May 2024, at the end of the Republican presidential primary contest in which Trump is currently the frontrunner.
A Trump spokesperson said the new charges were “nothing more than a continued desperate and flailing attempt” by the Biden administration “to harass President Trump and those around him”.
The case is one of many compounding legal troubles that Trump faces as he vies for the Oval Office again. He faces possible additional indictments in Washington over his role in the January 6 insurrection and in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In April, he was charged with 34 felony counts related to a hush-money scheme involving the adult film star Stormy Daniels. In May, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming writer E Jean Carroll.
In Fulton county, Georgia, a decision is expected shortly from prosecutor Fani Willis on whether to charge Trump over a phone call in which he attempted to push Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” him enough votes to win the 2020 election.