Two lawyers for Donald Trump left his legal team on Friday, less than a day after the former president was indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal charges related to his retention of classified materials after he left office.
News of the moves was only one bullet point in a cascade of notable developments in the hours since Trump revealed the indictment on Thursday evening. A loyal Trump aide was also indicted in the case, which was reported Friday to have been assigned to a judge appointed by the former president, and who has ruled favorably – and controversially – for the former president in the past.
Trump lawyers James Trusty and John Rowley resigned Friday, according to a statement released by the pair. Just Thursday evening, Trusty was defending Trump during an appearance on CNN.
“It has been an honor to have spent the last year defending him, and we know that he will be vindicated in his battles against the Biden Administration’s partisan weaponization of the American justice system,” Trusty and Rowley said in the statement. “Now that the case has been filed in Miami, this is a logical moment for us to step aside and let others carry the cases through to completion.”
Cartoons on Donald Trump’s Indictment
A federal grand jury in Florida indicted the president, and the Justice Department is bringing the case against him there, instead of in Washington, where another grand jury had been meeting for months. He is expected to face charges including willful retention of national defense secrets, making false statements, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
The legal moves represent a major shakeup in Trump’s defense team on the precipice of his most consequential legal issues to date. Trump confirmed the news in a post on social media, noting that he would be represented going forward by Todd Blanche – a lawyer who is also defending him in an ongoing criminal trial in New York – and a “firm to be named later.”
Trump also posted on social media that his loyal and longtime aide Walt Nauta had also been indicted in connection to the probe. The post confirmed reporting from multiple news outlets about the charges.
“I have just learned that the ‘Thugs’ from the Department of Injustice will be Indicting a wonderful man, Walt Nauta, a member of the US Navy, who served proudly with me in the White House, retired as Senior Chief, and then transitioned into private life as a personal aide,” Trump posted. “They are trying to destroy his life, like the lives of so many others, hoping that he will say bad things about ‘Trump.’ He is strong, brave, and a Great Patriot. The FBI and DOJ are CORRUPT!”
It’s not clear what charges Nauta may be facing. Although the charges against Trump remain sealed, he is expected to face a count of conspiracy – a charge that requires the involvement of at least two people.
Nauta has been a central figure in Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation. He was reportedly seen moving boxes out of a storage room before and after federal officials issued a subpoena requiring the return of all classified materials in his possession. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report news of Nauta’s indictment.
The Justice Department’s decision to bring the charges in Florida is seen as an attempt to head off a legal challenge from Trump over the venue. But it could prove consequential.
According to multiple reports, the case has been randomly assigned to Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump himself.
Cannon oversaw earlier hearings in the documents probe, and issued a series of controversial rulings in Trump’s favor, including a decision barring the government from using many of the documents it recovered from Trump’s residence in its investigation until a third-party had reviewed them.
It’s unclear if Cannon will preside over the case in its entirety, or if prosecutors will move for it to be assigned to another judge.