For loyal service to Donald Trump both in the White House and since — as valet, Diet Coke gofer and occasional box mover — Walt Nauta now finds himself joined even closer to his boss: as the former president’s co-defendant. You have to feel sorry for the guy.
Nauta presumably could have avoided the six federal criminal counts against him, and the prospect of many years in prison, if he’d just cooperated with federal prosecutors to help build a case against their real target, Trump, for swiping classified documents and conspiring to hide them from the government. Nauta could still flip, though that’s thought unlikely. The fact that he has chosen not to help the feds doesn’t make him a less sympathetic figure.
Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.
No, the 40-year-old Navy veteran is a tragic figure, whatever the legal outcome. On the orders of his former commander in chief, according to the indictment, Nauta obediently moved boxes containing classified material from room to room at Mar-a-Lago to hide them from investigators and even from Trump’s lawyer, then lied to the FBI about his actions.
Nauta’s misplaced loyalty puts him at the front of an immeasurably long line of people, both famous and obscure, who’ve had their lives upended somehow by the egomaniacal Trump.
Some of those people worked for the former president, in positions high and (like Nauta) low, only to be drawn knowingly or otherwise into legal or ethical scrapes, or publicly shamed if they resisted Trump’s schemes. Few emerged from that employment without reputational damage — not Cabinet secretaries or press secretaries. Some served time, including Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and his company’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
Other casualties didn’t actually work for Trump — except that in his mind, everyone does. Think of the 2020 election administrators nationwide who found themselves strafed by his verbal fire, then by his MAGA followers’ death threats, when they disputed Trump’s election-fraud lies. The lifelong Republican on Arizona’s Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Bill Gates, struggles with PTSD. As Ruby Freeman, a Black election volunteer in Georgia, asked the House Jan. 6 committee after testifying about the racist attacks she and her daughter endured when Trump falsely accused them of vote fraud: “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?”
Some Trump targets have been heartlessly attacked simply for criticizing him, like the Gold Star parents whose Muslim son, an Army captain, died in Iraq and who objected to Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Still other victims were simply anonymous pawns in Trump’s political games, like the thousands of migrant children separated from their families at the border, roughly a thousand of whom still haven’t been reunited with relatives years later.
Forget about judging the defeated president on his policy prescriptions; reasonable people can differ about those. Even set aside his penchant for bending, if not breaking, the law when it suits him; at least he’s beginning to be held accountable — probably including charges, before long, for his efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden and to incite an insurrection.
What remains perhaps the single most compelling argument for Trump’s unfitness for the presidency is his cruelty, his willingness to use people for his own ends, regardless of the peril for them and their families, and his entirely selfish maliciousness toward countless others, for any reason or no reason.
We haven’t seen anyone like him before in the presidency. We never should again.
Do a computer search of “For Trump, loyalty is a one-way street” or “Donald Trump” and “throw you under the bus” — favorite sayings of his many estranged associates — and you get millions of hits covering years, as well as this week’s articles involving Nauta.
Cohen, the ex-con ex-Trump lawyer who speaks from experience, has been quoted using both phrases. He laments that Nauta hasn’t aided prosecutors to save himself jail time: “Loyalty, to Donald Trump, is like 1st Avenue in Manhattan: one way.” On MSNBC, Cohen looked straight into the camera as if talking to Nauta and said“Run as fast as you can, my friend … because Donald Trump will throw you under the bus faster than you could possibly imagine.”
Another former Trump lawyer, Ty Cobb, likewise feels sorry for Nauta. “I’d be shocked if Trump said 10 words a day to him,” Cobb told the Washington Post. And two of those words, Cobb added, would not be “Thank you.”
After the indictment of Trump and Nauta, the former president praised his valet and protested on his social media site that the FBI and the Justice Department “are trying to destroy his life, like the lives of so many others.”
Trump was projecting again.