New charges raise an old question: Why are so many people willing to risk it all for Donald Trump?

We didn’t get the fresh new round of Donald Trump indictments many were waiting for last week. But late Thursday, special prosecutor Jack Smith did drop a fascinating new document: an indictment, which supersedes the previous one, in the case against Trump for stealing classified documents and refusing to give them back to the federal government. The new charges stem from one of the many alleged attempts Trump made to either hide documents or hide that he had stolen them. The government is accusing the former president of ordering staff to shuffle documents around in hopes to evade federal authorities. 

The most interesting wrinkle is that there’s a third defendant added to the case, along with Trump and his valet, Walt Nauta, who had previously been charged with working with Trump on this crime. Carlos De Oliveira is the head of maintenance at Mar-a-Lago and is now facing a possible prison sentence for allegedly assisting Nauta, on Trump’s orders, to hide documents and destroy evidence. De Oliveira’s role in this is fascinating precisely because of how ordinary he seems to be. He’s a 56-year-old man who has worked at Mar-a-Lago for a long time, and all his neighbors and landlord could say about him is that he seems nice and likes to golf. It’s a similar story with Nauta, who was born in Guam and enlisted in the Navy in 2001. Nauta met Trump after the military assigned him to valet service in the White House. When Trump left office, Nauta retired from the Navy and went to work for Trump.

Former Trump attorney Ty Cobb, who has become an outspoken critic of Trump’s, characterized Nauta as a victim to PBS, saying, “I think Walt is easy prey” because he takes pride in his service. “I think it’s really sad that people were not able to convince him of his misplaced loyalty,” Cobb added. 

In other words, neither of these men resemble some of the more colorful characters that surrounded Trump during his attempted coup, such as MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, or right-wing lawyers like Sidney Powell or John Eastman. Those folks may seem nutty, but it’s not a mystery why they were involved in Trump’s alleged crimes, and frankly appear to have been egging Trump on. Those folks have a political agenda, focused on dismantling American democracy. They aren’t even really loyal to Trump per se, but see him merely as a vehicle to achieve their authoritarian ends. 

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for people who seem to have gotten caught up in Trump’s orbit for entirely personal reasons, such as believing he offered exciting employment opportunities.

In contrast, we don’t know anything about the personal politics of Nauta or De Oliveira, and in a sense, they seem irrelevant. There’s nothing about hiding classified documents or destroying evidence that makes sense from a political perspective. The alleged co-conspirators in Trump’s coup were focused on political goals, however evil or far-fetched as those goals may be. But there are no political gains to be made by helping Trump hide classified documents or obstruct justice. The only motive appears to be personal loyalty to Trump. Worse, that personal loyalty appears to be ongoing, at least for Nauta, who has so far stuck by Trump’s side. We have yet to learn the full story with De Oliveira, but he, too, seems to still be in Trump’s camp. Both men are represented by lawyers who were hired by Trump, and De Oliveira’s lawyer, John Irving, has received $200,000 from Trump super PAC. 

As foolish as political loyalty to Trump may be, personal loyalty makes even less sense. Trump’s sociopathic worldview, in which he expects loyalty but gives none in return, has been long-established. It’s like the law of gravity, that Trump will throw anyone under the bus to save himself. As legal experts have repeatedly pointed out, it’s in Nauta and De Oliveira’s interest to flip on Trump, testifying against him in exchange for leniency from the prosecution. 

That these two men may not see this suggests very strongly that the lawyers hired by Trump to supposedly advise these them are more focused on serving Trump’s interests than those of their supposed clients. That’s something White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson realized during the House committee’s investigation into the events of January 6th. As she told the committee, she had started off with a lawyer provided by Trump, who she said advised her to focus on covering up for Trump, even as she worried it opened her up to prosecution. She decided to hire her own lawyer who, sure enough, told her to be honest with the committee and save herself, instead of saving Trump. 

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The whole thing is a window into how Trump leverages his power and wealth to manipulate the people who work for him. Most people don’t know the first thing about hiring a defense attorney, and so Trump can pretend he’s being magnanimous by hiring one for them. Hutchinson, a college graduate who spent years working on Capitol Hill before her stint in the White House, had enough support and resources to realize, eventually, that she needed to hire her own lawyer. But people who don’t have her privileged background are likely easier to manipulate into taking “help” that isn’t help at all. 

What is remarkable is how few people have seen the light like this person did, and know well enough to wash their hands of Trump before ending up as another one of Trump’s endless string of victims. 

The most famous case, of course, of someone who found out that Trump never returns loyalty is his former lawyer, who admits he worked more as a fixer, Michael Cohen. Cohen conspired with Trump during the 2016 election to commit campaign finance fraud to conceal hush money payments to a porn actress Trump once had sex with. For his role in this, Cohen went to prison, while Trump skirted away, consequence-free. (Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is trying to right that wrong now, hitting Trump with 34 felony charges for his role in that conspiracy.) After he was convicted, Cohen testified to Congress about his regrets and warned others not to follow in his footsteps. 

Those who “follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering,” Cohen gravely said. 

Not everyone at Mar-a-Lago has failed to absorb the message, it seems. As legal experts have been arguing publicly, the new indictment makes it all but certain that at least one former Mar-a-Lago employee, an IT director, has offered testimony about how Trump’s people pressured him to destroy evidence. But what is remarkable is how few people have seen the light like this person did, and know well enough to wash their hands of Trump before ending up as another one of Trump’s endless string of victims. 

Perhaps the answer is simple: People who have the wherewithal to see through Trump also have the sense not to get involved with Trump in the first place. That rule of thumb doesn’t apply to GOP leaders, like Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, who know Trump is scum but feel their only path to political power goes through kissing Trump’s ass. Those Republican leaders deserve to be laid as low as possible for selling themselves out. But it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for people who seem to have gotten caught up in Trump’s orbit for entirely personal reasons, such as believing he offered exciting employment opportunities or, as Cobb suggested of Nauta, that there’s prestige in working for a former president. One hopes that both Nauta and De Oliveira don’t make Cohen’s mistake, and see the light about Trump until it’s too late to avoid prison. 

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about Trump’s Mar-a-Lago indictment


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