Trump took secret trip to Mar-a-Lago just weeks before an FBI raid, witnesses say

Witnesses said they were told to keep quiet about the trip

Published June 24, 2024 10:34AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Jack Smith (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Jack Smith (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Special counsel Jack Smith's team may have uncovered another attempt by Donald Trump to obstruct the government's investigation into his alleged mishandling of classified documents. Sources close to the matter told ABC News that witnesses who spoke to prosecutors said that the former president made a previously undisclosed trip to Mar-a-Lago in July 2022, his aides instructed to "keep quiet" about the jaunt to Florida just weeks before FBI agents searched the property.

At least one witness close to Trump reportedly told prosecutors that he was told, at the time of Trump's trip, that the former president was there "checking on boxes."

According to ABC News, several witnesses said the trip was highly unusual, since Trump usually spends his summer months at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, and also because Trump's private residence at Mar-a-Lago was under renovation at time time. Other witnesses said they were given the impression that Trump was there to check on the renovations.

"They were keeping this one quiet ... nobody knew about this trip," one witness with direct knowledge of the trip told investigators. Trump's decision to go was apparently made on short notice. Sources described airport manifestos as showing Trump's original route from a rally in Alaska back to New Jersey, before updating to reroute the former president towards Florida.

One of Trump's alleged co-conspirators, longtime aide Walt Nauta, reportedly sent a number of text messages to trusted aides instructing them to not talk about the changes.

"I'm pretty sure [Trump] wants minimal people around on Monday," Nauta wrote one day before Trump's arrival at Mar-a-Lago, according to a message provided to ABC News. The sources said that Nauta wanted the trip to remain "discreet" and used emojis with zipped mouths to indicate its secretive nature.

Later, Nauta reportedly visited Mar-a-Lago on his own, possibly to meet property manager and alleged co-conspirator Carlos De Oliveira.

Reports of the secret trip are coming to light after prosecutors brought 40 criminal charges against Trump over refusing to return hundreds of classified documents and attempting to hinder the government from retrieving those documents. The trip came shortly after federal investigators sought surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago showing Trump aides moving boxes from a storage room in the resort to his personal residence. Around the same time, Trump allegedly changed the locks on a closet hiding a stash of papers while his own attorney was in the basement searching for them.

Last month, Smith's team submitted a filing alleging that Trump, after being informed of the subpoena for surveillance footage, sent some of the documents back to the club's basement without being caught on camera. Trump, for his part, has denied all 40 charges and denounced the investigation as a political witch hunt.

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