One of Donald Trump’s co-defendants in the classified documents case told a federal judge Thursday that he’s not concerned his defense lawyer previously represented three witnesses who could testify against him.
The court hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida, addressed concerns raised by prosecutors about the web of connections between the case’s defense lawyers and witnesses, many of whom work at Mar-a-Lago or for the former president.
Carlos De Oliveira, a maintenance worker at Trump’s Florida estate, is represented by John Irving, who had been paid for by Trump’s political action committee. De Oliveira is accused of attempting to tamper with surveillance footage at the club during an investigation into the handling of classified documents and of lying to investigators. He and his co-defendants have pleaded not guilty and plan to contest the charges at trial.
Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the case, repeatedly asked De Oliveira, a Portuguese immigrant with little formal education, if he understood the potential ethical conflicts with his lawyer. He said multiple times that he did, but then struggled to articulate his understanding of the potential issues.
“If Mr. Irving was trying to cross other people – I don’t know how to say it,” he said.
Still, “I’m OK with it,” De Oliveira said. “I discussed it with my lawyers in previous days.”
“I would like to continue forward with Mr. Irving,” De Oliveira also said, adding that he had not been influenced or coerced into making that decision.
The two-hour hearing highlighted a bigger theme that has shaded the Mar-a-Lago documents case: The inter-connectedness of Trump’s legal universe. While it’s not atypical for an employer to assist employees in finding and paying for lawyers, a small group of attorneys have juggled many clients in Trump’s sphere, receiving compensation for at least some of their work from Trump’s Save America PAC and working closely with Trump’s own defense lawyers.
Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche also attended Thursday’s hearing.
Cannon accepted De Oliveira’s waiver of any issues that could arise with Irving. The Justice Department had raised the concern in part to eliminate possible grounds for appeal if the defendants are convicted at trial.
De Oliveira’s lawyer pledged not to question at trial the witnesses he previously represented, leaving that job to another lawyer.
Irving no longer witnesses who could testify about De Oliveira moving boxes at Mar-a-Lago and would have insight into him appearing to take photos of surveillance cameras. Irving said he may not even take issue with their testimony and believes it might not hurt De Oliveira.
Another Trump co-defendant in the classified documents case, Walt Nauta, was set to have a similar hearing on Thursday regarding his attorney Stanley Woodward representing a key witness who will be called to testify against all three defendants.
But Cannon refused to go forward with that hearing because prosecutors with the special counsel’s office raised arguments they hadn’t previously put in writing.
Before abruptly ending Nauta’s proceeding less than a half hour after it began, Cannon admonished the government “for frankly wasting the court’s time.”
Woodward and other defense attorneys have repeatedly tried to delay aspects of the case and want the trial date to be much later than May, when it is currently set. It’s not clear yet if the derailment of Nauta’s hearing on Thursday would ultimately prompt other deadlines in the case to be pushed back.
The special counsel’s office asked to hold these hearings for Nauta and De Oliveira more than two months ago, telling Cannon that the multiple witnesses Woodward and Irving represented could cause “divided loyalties” at the trial, when they are defending Nauta and De Oliveira while questioning their former clients on the stand.
Irving no longer represents the three clients he had who may be called to testify against Trump and his co-defendants, but Woodward still represents several potential witnesses in addition to Nauta.
As of August, the Justice Department told the court Woodward had at least seven clients who had been questioned in the investigation, including a Mar-a-Lago IT director and two others who worked for Trump while he was president, according to a court filing.
The IT director Yuscil Taveras, who cut an agreement with prosecutors under which he won’t be prosecuted in exchange for his cooperation, has a different attorney now.
Woodward has maintained his work for Nauta hasn’t created clear conflicts of interest. He’s also said in filings the IT director testified to a grand jury that he wasn’t coached or influenced on what he said.