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

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

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

The interview 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. 

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

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

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

The former Trump Organization finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, 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.  

Facing charges alongside Trump in the documents case are Walt Nauta, who served as Trump’s valet and continued to work for him after leaving the White House, and De Oliveira, a property manager at Mar-a-Lago, who was charged by federal prosecutors with trying to delete security video at the club and that he told another employee that “the boss” wanted it gone.

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

Butler, in a CNN interview where 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, who appeared 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
Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2022.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 leaving 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 the former president may have been trying to show him the loyalty Trump himself expects of those around him.

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

Trump was indicted last year on forty felony charges over his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving 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 has not set a date for Trump’s trial in the classified documents case, but government prosecutors and defense attorneys have both said they believe it could take place over the summer. 

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