Donald Trump threw another online tantrum yesterday, and there was no great mystery as to why. Jury selection is now underway in the case against the former president’s business, with prosecutors alleging that the Trump Organization committed a series of crimes, including tax fraud.
But that’s hardly the only discouraging legal news the Republican is confronting this week. The New York Times published a report overnight that reinforced the scope of Trump’s troubles.
Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of national security documents he took with him from the White House have ratcheted up their pressure in recent weeks on key witnesses in the hopes of gaining their testimony, according to two people briefed on the matter. The effort by the Justice Department shows how the investigation is entering a new phase as prosecutors seek to push recalcitrant witnesses to cooperate with them.
According to the reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, the current pressure is being applied to people in the former president’s orbit who aren’t necessarily famous, but who are clearly relevant to the larger investigation.
Two weeks ago, for example, we discussed Walt Nauta, a longtime aide to Trump who was allegedly seen on security camera footage moving boxes out of a Mar-a-Lago storage room before and after the Justice Department issued a subpoena. By some accounts, federal law enforcement has reportedly interviewed Nauta “on several occasions.”
With this in mind, the newest reporting from the Times added, “Prosecutors have indicated they are skeptical of an initial account Mr. Nauta gave investigators about moving documents stored at Mar-a-Lago and are using the specter of charges against him for misleading investigators to persuade him to sit again for questioning, according to two people briefed on the matter.”
Meanwhile, the same article also pointed to Kash Patel, who maintains a higher profile as a Trump loyalist, and who was designated by the former president as one of his representatives to the National Archives and Records Administration to deal with his presidential records.
Patel also helped take the lead in promoting the idea that Trump declassified the relevant materials before leaving office.
According to the Times’ account, Patel recently appeared before a grand jury, as part of the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago scandal, but he reportedly cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Prosecutors are still exploring ways to force him to answer questions.
As for why the former president should find all of this unsettling, let’s not lose sight of the larger context: When federal prosecutors increase the pressure on key witnesses in any investigation, trying to secure their testimony, it’s not because they’re especially interested in the witnesses themselves. It’s generally because they have a more notable target in mind — such as, say, the witnesses’ boss.
As lawyer George Conway noted, in response to the Times’ article, the latest details might lead one to believe “the ultimate target is ... orange.”