Longtime Trump employee: Mar-a-Lago culture would have led many to commit crimes

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.— A longtime employee of Donald Trump, who testified before a grand jury in the case involving the former president’s handling of classified documents, described a culture of loyalty around Trump that drives people toward extreme lengths to protect him.

Brian Butler, who is referred to in the classified documents indictment as “Trump Employee 5,” delivered bombshell testimony last year to federal prosecutors, who used the information to charge Trump later. Butler, a central witness in the case, is one of several Trump employees who could play major roles at trial.

In an interview with NBC News in Palm Beach, Butler recalled his time testifying before a grand jury last year after having met with special counsel Jack Smith in Washington, D.C.

There were “about 20” jurors, he said, including one who appeared to be sleeping. “I could see their eyes shut,” he said.

The interview with jurors took place in a “dark room, kind of like an old room,” he said. “It was like being in a closet.”

None of the jurors asked questions, he said. But one topic of interest was what actions he took on June 3, 2022, when Walt Nauta, who was Trump’s valet and continued to work for him after he left the White House, asked him to load boxes containing documents onto Trump’s plane in Florida, Butler said in a segment that aired on MSNBC after the NBC News interview.

“So we talked about, you know, June 3, obviously, the moving of boxes, luggage, to the plane. I talked about, you know, the conversations with Carlos [De Oliveira], you know, over June until July, August — all the way up until just prior to his indictment,” Butler told MSNBC’s Ari Melber in an interview that aired Wednesday.

De Oliveira, who was a property manager at Mar-a-Lago, is a co-defendant along with Nauta.

“I mean, we were in constant contact. We were friends. We talked about a couple of meetings, I mean, some phone calls that I received, asking about him, but I mean, I answered everything honestly,” he added.

Butler also said he was “very forthcoming” in his interviews with the Justice Department team. He said there were four or five meetings over a few months, adding he thought that included the time he testified in front of the grand jury.

But Butler said prosecutors from Smith’s office “were interested in everything.”

Butler, a 20-year Mar-a-Lago employee, told Smith that he believes the culture surrounding Trump could make those around him more likely to break the law — including on Trump’s behalf. He talked about the actions of De Oliveira.

“I said, ‘I bet you 95 out of 100 people in Carlos’ shoes would do exactly what he did,’” Butler said. “I think there’s many people that would do his bidding for him if he asked, absolutely. Look at Weisselberg.”

Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization finance chief, pleaded guilty this month to lying under oath in Trump’s civil tax fraud case and has remained steadfastly loyal to Trump. He now faces a second stint behind bars.

In the MSNBC interview, Butler was asked whether others gave him the impression that Trump knew the things that happened were bad or illegal and he didn’t want that on video.

“Oh, absolutely,” Butler told Melber, citing concerns from Trump about the video.

Facing charges alongside Trump in the documents case are Nauta and De Oliveira, who was charged by federal prosecutors with trying to delete security video at the club and accused of telling another employee that “the boss” wanted it gone.

Nauta and De Oliveira were with Trump last week at a hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida, with their attorneys trading notes during the appearance before U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon.

Butler, in a CNN interview in which he revealed his identity for the first time, described a close friendship with De Oliveira and offered years of text conversations attesting to their ties. He said De Oliveira was deeply loyal to Trump.

His own view of the Palm Beach club began to change after Trump won the 2016 presidential election and new members joined the club, appearing interested only in what access they could glean from the new president. There was one foreign billionaire “who would only go when he was there,” Butler recalled.

Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla (Joe Raedle / Getty Images file)

Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla (Joe Raedle / Getty Images file)

“It became very transactional,” he said. “You see the same people here, coming to kiss the ring every day.”

After he left his job at the club in November 2022, Butler said, it wasn’t long before he heard from Trump directly. “It was the day after Thanksgiving,” he said, “and he wanted to know why I left.”

Trump said Butler could come back if he ever wanted. The call didn’t strike Butler as unusual at the time, but he now believes Trump may have been trying to show him the loyalty he himself expects of those around him.

“Now, it all feels totally different,” Butler said.

Trump was indicted last year on 40 felony counts over his alleged mishandling of classified documents after he left the White House and willful obstruction of federal investigators who were trying to retrieve them. He has denied all wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

Trump’s co-defendants, Nauta and De Oliveira, have also pleaded not guilty to the related charges against them.

Cannon hasn’t set a date for Trump’s trial in the classified documents case. Government prosecutors and defense attorneys have both said they believe it could take place over the summer.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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