When Donald Trump invited his longtime White House valet, Walt Nauta, to join his post-presidential political operation in August 2021, he was hiring a body man with serious baggage.
Weeks before Nauta—a Navy enlistee stationed with the White House Presidential Support Detail since 2012—traded Washington, D.C., for Palm Beach, Navy officials had escorted him off White House grounds, reassigned him to a new post, and docked his White House security clearance in response to accusations of fraternization, adultery, harassment, and other inappropriate sexual conduct, including “revenge porn,” two people with direct knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast.
The allegations came from three female servicemembers, these sources said. While Nauta’s behavior had been ongoing for years, according to these sources, the women first reported it to supervisors in spring 2021, shortly after Nauta was recalled from his first, temporary post-presidential assignment at Mar-a-Lago.
Specifically, the initial complaints stemmed from a woman’s responses to a “command climate survey,” submitted sometime around April 2021. The woman reported an “inappropriate relationship between a senior person and a junior person,” according to one of the sources with direct knowledge.
Nauta, this source said, was high enough in the White House detail’s leadership structure that he was actually among the group of Navy officials briefed on that first complaint. The survey responses hadn’t named Nauta, however, and he walked out of that meeting “cool as a cucumber, ready to find the culprit,” this source said.
But a follow-up inquiry identified Nauta, along with inappropriate romantic relationships with two additional women. Nauta, the same source said, admitted to the relationships in a White House interview, and a superior officer walked him off the property that day.
The U.S. military strictly forbids fraternization, which the Navy defines as an “unduly familiar” relationship between members “that does not respect the difference in rank or grade.” Those relationships can be personal, professional, or romantic, and the steepest penalties include dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay.
Nauta, both sources said, was accused of violating this prohibition in multiple overlapping and emotionally abusive romantic relationships while he was married and assigned to the White House. The “revenge porn” included supposedly compromising images of women that Nauta had allegedly retained and threatened to make public, according to the sources.
All three women told Navy officials about the alleged misconduct, the sources explained, which they said occurred while Nauta was Trump’s White House valet, fetching Diet Cokes for the parched president.
However, it’s unclear whether the Navy officially charged Nauta with any violations, or whether all parties were content to let him quickly and quietly retire without further incident.
Today, Nauta faces seven federal charges for an allegedly central role in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Prosecutors say that Nauta, at Trump’s direction, repeatedly tried to thwart law enforcement officials seeking to recover dozens of boxes of documents that belonged to the U.S. government—allegedly including highly sensitive national defense secrets—which Trump had stashed at his Palm Beach resort compound.
When the Mar-a-Lago case catapulted Nauta to global headlines, newsrooms across the country scrambled to cobble together biographical profiles in an attempt to explain just how and why this person, among so many others, found himself in this position. The question at the heart of those pieces is still pounding: Why is this decorated Navy veteran putting his liberty on the line for a man who is accused of arrogating reams of national defense intelligence to himself and then dumping them in his bathtub?
There is corroborating public evidence of at least one alleged action. In response to the women’s allegations, the two sources said, Naval officials promptly pulled Nauta from the Presidential Support Detail and reassigned him to the Navy’s D.C. headquarters; that transfer appears in Nauta’s service record, and occurred on May 28, 2021.
While multiple sources indicated that the Navy has official records of the proceedings, it’s unclear exactly what was memorialized. The Daily Beast has not been able to obtain any related documents through public records inquiries.
Navy Personnel Command decided against give comment for this story.
But when Trump campaign communications director Steven Cheung was asked for comment, he did not deny the allegations, casting them instead as a politically motivated “smear.”
“This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to smear Mr. Nauta for political purposes,” Cheung said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “He is a distinguished veteran of over 20 years who honorably served his country, and no amount of baseless and fabricated attacks will ever change that.”
Cheung would not say whether Trump or his political team knew of the allegations when they hired Nauta in 2021.
In July, The New York Times reported that Nauta had been removed from the White House after the Navy learned he had “fraternized with colleagues and subordinates in the White House mess,” citing people with knowledge of the matter. The report did not provide further information about the incidents, but it noted that Navy officials had been deciding next steps and were even considering “sending Mr. Nauta back out to sea on a ship.”
Then a Trump aide contacted Nauta and offered him a permanent gig as the former president’s personal body man, the Times reported. When Nauta told his superiors he wanted to take the job, a source with knowledge told The Daily Beast, the Navy approved.
Colby Vokey, military criminal defense attorney and U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel (ret.), told The Daily Beast that in cases like Nauta’s the Navy does not typically have to take time to deliberate the next steps.
“These allegations are common, and the Navy knows exactly what to do,” said Vokey, who estimates that he’s been involved with more than 100 similar cases in his career.
“It’s a standard procedure,” he said. After a preliminary inquiry establishes the validity of the claims, Vokey explained, military commanders will then often convene a deeper investigation. In the process, he said, servicemembers are often reassigned to remove them from the situation and any proximity to potential victims or witnesses.
Given the reported fact pattern of Nauta’s case, Vokey observed, it wouldn’t be unusual for military officials to immediately place a protective order on the alleged offender. Those documents, he said, would not be publicly available. (Asked whether such an order had been issued against Nauta, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast that officials had indeed indicated that the Navy took this step.)
“The only thing that complicates it in this case is the fact they’re dealing with the Trump White House,” Vokey said.
Compared to typical cases of this nature, he said, the trajectory of Nauta’s case was unusual for its apparent inaction. But, Vokey said, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Navy saw the Mar-a-Lago offer, coinciding as it did with Nauta’s retirement window, as an opportunity to avoid practical difficulties in investigating White House personnel and to avoid a potential public relations firestorm—especially given the national temperature in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack.
“It looks like this may have been an easy way out and the Navy took it,” he said.
In August, Nauta received his first paycheck from Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC. The next month, he retired from the Navy at the rank of senior chief petty officer—the second-highest rank a Naval enlistee can achieve. His service record boasts five achievement medals from the Navy and Marine Corps, along with seven medals for good conduct.
But the choice to join Trump, it turns out, had never been Nauta’s plan.
When Trump departed the White House under the ignominy of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Nauta was part of the detail assigned to help him readjust to private life, a temporary perk afforded all former presidents.
Trump’s detail, however, was yanked back to D.C. just weeks later, three people with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast, an unusually early termination. That’s because, in the new administration’s view, Trump—who has been catered to hand-and-foot since childhood and whose personal residence doubles as a full-service private club—did not need to be weaned off the royal treatment, three sources said, let alone at taxpayer expense.
At the time, Nauta was months away from qualifying for retirement, but he intended to stay on with the Navy, even applying to extend his service, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. It’s not clear whether Nauta wanted to continue with Joe Biden’s White House or opt for a new assignment, but after the allegations surfaced, Nauta chose a future with Trump over one with the Navy.
It was perhaps the most consequential decision of his life.
A year after joining the Trump payroll, Nauta was at the center of the most explosive national security scandal in recent history, when a federal magistrate judge authorized the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago for sensitive national security documents that Trump had taken from the White House and kept, in alleged violation of federal law.
Nauta was indicted alongside Trump in June 2022, when a grand jury charged him with six felonies for his allegedly central role in obstructing the investigation.
While none of the charges overlap with Nauta’s time in the White House, prosecutors say Nauta helped pack boxes that Trump took to Mar-a-Lago. The indictment also alleges that Nauta was aware that Trump had squirreled away sensitive records as early as December 2021, citing a text message the valet sent at the time to alert a co-worker that he’d found boxes of documents “spilled onto the floor” of a storage area.
“I opened the door and found this,” Nauta wrote in the text, alongside a photo of documents scattered on the ground, “CONFIDENTIAL” labels glaring among the pile, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors claim that Mar-a-Lago security footage shows Nauta moving boxes of sensitive documents to hide them from investigators and allege that he lied to FBI agents in an interview.
Asked whether he knew where those boxes had been stored, Nauta told agents, “I wish, I wish I could tell you. I don’t know. I don’t—I honestly just don’t know,” the indictment says.
Weeks later, a superseding indictment added a third defendant—longtime Mar-a-Lago handyman Carlos De Oliveira—and another charge for Nauta. Prosecutors implicated Nauta in another obstruction scheme, allegedly at Trump’s bidding, to delete surveillance video of Trump personnel hiding government documents from officials attempting to recover them pursuant to a grand jury subpoena.
Nauta has pleaded not guilty and disputes the allegations. His lawyer, Stanley Woodward, declined to comment for this article.
Nauta, who was born and raised in Guam, joined the Navy in 2001, in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. He became a culinary specialist and in 2012 signed on with the Presidential Food Service—known as the White House Mess—during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Nauta worked his way up to “senior chief culinary specialist” under Trump, whom he served as personal valet—a coveted position in the White House residence. In that capacity, Nauta was especially close to Trump, a position of high trust that he maintained through the administration’s calamitous final weeks.
While Nauta would be a critical prosecution witness, he has so far outwardly shown no signs of cooperating.
Ty Cobb, a lawyer who represented Trump during the Russia investigation and knew Nauta personally, previously told PBS news that he felt bad for the former valet, calling him a “dedicated patriot” whose eagerness to please made him “easy prey.”
“The proudest moment he ever had was being named valet to the president and sadly the president he got named valet for was Trump,” Cobb said.
The women’s allegations, however, indicate that Nauta himself saw others as “easy prey.” And that would also add his name to a long line of Trump loyalists—and Trump himself—who have been accused of inappropriate conduct towards women, ranging from harassment to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.
Trump, of course, is notorious for exploiting people around him who have been compromised in one form or another.
Sarah Matthews, Trump’s former White House deputy press secretary who resigned in protest of the Jan. 6 attack, told The Daily Beast that Trump wasn’t above using the kind of leverage he would have had over Nauta.
“Trump will use any tactic to demand loyalty from folks, whether that’s blackmail, financial leverage, you name it,” Matthews told The Daily Beast.
She noted that Trump often plays this the other way, performatively seizing on negative reports about beleaguered allies to signal his support and keep them close.
“When bad stories do come out in the media about allies, sometimes you’ll see Trump flip it and use it to his advantage, ‘Oh, look at the horrible lies the fake news media is spreading about this great person,’” she said.
This holds true for accusations of misconduct to women, including pedophilia allegations against former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, claims of sexual harassment against White House physician Ronny Jackson, and abuse accusations against senior White House aide Rob Porter. Top one-time aides Rep. Max Miller (R-OH) and Corey Lewandowski have both been accused of extreme abuse towards women; Trump later endorsed Miller’s congressional bid, and has recently featured Lewandowski at campaign events following a short exile from Trumpworld.
In Nauta’s case, Matthews identified “two kinds of blackmail for loyalty, at least.”
“There are these allegations, about his character and family life, but there’s also the money,” she said.
In the roughly 29 months since he was hired, Nauta has been paid more than $360,000 from Trump’s political committees, according to Federal Election Commission data. (Following Trump’s candidacy declaration in November 2022, Nauta was transferred from the Save America payroll to the 2024 campaign.) Trump has also covered expenses for Nauta’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, who has received Save America payments as well as cash from Trump’s legal defense fund. Woodward, who represents other Trumpworld figures, would not confirm whether any of the defense fund payments were specifically for his representation of Nauta.
“You saw this with Cassidy, how Trump paid for her lawyer—who was also his lawyer—and how that was a barrier for her, and when she broke with Trumpworld she had to go out and hire her own attorney and find a way to pay for that,” Matthews said, referencing former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who famously cut ties with MAGAland to tell the public and investigators what she knew about the Jan. 6 insurrection.
(This summer, a critical witness in the Mar-a-Lago case made a similar choice, firing his Trump-provided lawyer, retracting his previous grand jury testimony, and cooperating with prosecutors. That witness had also been represented by Woodward.)
Matthews also had to overcome personal, political, and professional blowback when she left the fold, and was forced to restart her life essentially on her own.
“Walt, I think, must also be very scared. It’s got to be scary to be in his position,” she said.
Michael Cohen, the former Trump lawyer who titled his book about his former boss Loyalty, said that while the previously secret story of the allegations might be some leverage, Nauta appears more swayed by the paycheck and lifestyle.
“Sure, maybe he’s holding this over Walt Nauta’s head to ensure he doesn’t say or do anything contradictory to Trump. But it’s really the money, the lifestyle,” Cohen said.
“If Trump didn’t take him with him on this journey, what would Walt Nauta have? The answer is nothing. He’d have nothing,” Cohen said. “But with Trump, he’s flying around on a 757, there’s all these cheers and jeers at rallies, you jump into the motorcade—it’s all very seductive. So what else is he going to do, open a security company? With his background, most of the country will have nothing to do with you.”
Trump, Cohen said, is Nauta’s “last hurrah.”
“Look, if Trump hypothetically wins the election, Nauta for all we know might get to be the head of the joint chiefs of staff!” Cohen said, emphasizing that he’s “absolutely serious.”
“If your goal is to take full control of all aspects of government, you need a [House Speaker] Mike Johnson as your attorney general, you need a Walt Nauta as your head of the joint chiefs—you need someone like that who will always do what you want them to do,” he said.
Trump has, predictably, offered Nauta his public support. In a social media post the day of the initial Mar-a-Lago indictment, Trump called Nauta a “wonderful man.”
“They are trying to destroy his life, like the lives of so many others, hoping that he will say bad things about ‘Trump,’” he wrote. “He is strong, brave, and a Great Patriot. The FBI and DOJ are CORRUPT!”
That message, however, generated an echo in the second, superseding indictment the next month.
In one striking passage, prosecutors describe Trump’s inner circle simmering with concerns about De Oliveira, the handyman, amid the fallout from the Mar-a-Lago search. According to the indictment, Nauta was tapped to plumb De Oliveira’s loyalty.
“Someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good,” the indictment quoted Nauta telling another employee 18 days after the search.
The colleague, at Nauta’s request, then sent an encrypted text message to Nauta and senior political aide Susie Wiles, assuring them that De Oliveira was indeed loyal and “would not do anything to affect his relationship with Trump,” the indictment claimed.
Trump called De Oliveira later that day, prosecutors said, and said he would get him a lawyer.