Emil Guillermo: Flip Nauta, flip? Why Nauta's not likely to flip; plus my Father's Day essay

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I don’t know what my father, a career fry cook, would have thought about Donald Trump. But I’d guess if Willie Guillermo worked for him, Trump would definitely need a food taster.

Still, I cried after the historic arraignment of Trump in Miami and his visit afterwards to Little Havana to be serenaded by Cuban Americans singing “Happy Birthday.”

Tears for my country? Our democracy? I’ll explain toward the end of this piece.

As for that video, I could also make out the image of Trump co-defendant, Waltine “Walt” Nauta.

No one was singing to him. He was working hard, doing his job of keeping to a minimum the numbers of Trump hangers-on.

Nauta knows about hanging on.

He is probably one of the most consequential AAPIs in the Trump political era. I mean, really, how do you beat the role of indicted co-conspirator?

Observing Nauta’s actions post-arrest, one wonders—is he simply trying to be your typical AAPI stereotype?

He’s been quiet, stoic, keeping his head down, doing his job as the valet to a guy who can claim to be both the most hated and loved person in American politics today.

Which leads to the biggest question about Nauta: Will Walt Nauta flip?

Because he doesn’t appear to be lawyered up.

Maybe he should have done so last year when, as the Washington Post has reported, the Justice Department made overtures to Nauta about cooperating. He didn’t, but don’t think he’s lost a bit of leverage since then.

Nauta has seen more than we think. The former White House steward, now private valet/body man, was more than just the help when he dined with Trump and the legal team on Tuesday night and then appeared in federal court at the arraignment on Wednesday.

But surely, someone told him he couldn’t enter a plea without a local lawyer admitted to the Florida bar representing him? (Of course, even Trump had problems finding a Florida lawyer).

Nauta appeared to be left out to dry—by Trump.

Nauta did have a lawyer paid for by a Trump PAC, who has Nauta in wraps as if he’s Trump’s special legal bauble.

But that’s the point: who’s really looking out for Nauta?

He’s due back in court in a few weeks, when you can bet there will be no motorcade or special treatment for the valet.

But will he have a local Trumpy lawyer leading him through the paces?

Nauta getting his own lawyer could be tough. In addition to his Navy retirement, Nauta reportedly earns $135,000 as Trump’s valet. How are you going to afford a decent lawyer to tangle with Trump on one side and the U.S. government on the other?

Pro bono help? Sure, Ty Cobb, the former White House lawyer, is saying nice things about Nauta in the media, but where are the K Street Never-Trumpers offering to help a brother out?

Something’s not adding up.

It turns out there’s a better reason why Nauta isn’t looking for free legal help.

And it’s not just that federal Judge Aileen Cannon, a member of the Federalist Society since 2005 and a Trump nominee to the bench in 2020, will preside over the case.

To some, Cannon’s bias is clear after she granted Trump’s request to appoint a “special master” to review the seized documents in this case, but was fortunately reversed on appeal.

The real problem is there’s no “mandatory minimum sentencing” for the crimes Trump and Nauta are facing, according to Lawrence O’Donnell on his MSNBC show Wednesday night.

O’Donnell speculated that if a jury found Trump and Nauta guilty, nothing would stand in the way of Cannon’s leniency.

Given that, O’Donnell said there must be a “basic assumption” among all the attorneys involved that there is “no risk of any sentence for the defendants.”

Therefore, as O’Donnell concludes, there’s “zero pressure and zero reason for Walt Nauta to flip.”

O’Donnell adds that either Trump has implicitly or explicitly made Nauta feel he’s set for life, if he just sticks with Trump.

But who trusts whom more? Trump appears to be exploiting the extreme loyalty and pride that Nauta naturally has in serving a former president. What would prevent Trump—if he needed to– from making Nauta the fall guy? Cannon is beholden to Trump, but not Nauta.

Then again, that there’s no mandatory minimum sentencing makes O’Donnell’s musings more than idle speculation, though it’s no less a deal with the devil.

And what does this do for those with hopes for real accountability in defense of our democracy?

In a there but for fortune way, if I were Nauta, I know what one ought to do.

I’m flipping yesterday.

TEARS FOR MY FATHER Walt Nauta, who started as a cook in the White House mess and became Trump’s key steward, already reminds me of my dad, who was a cook and restaurant worker all his life.

Nauta was in the Navy; my father, Willie Guillermo, was 4F and in the private sector. But service and hospitality–being the help–was always our way out and up.

To see Nauta, a Guam native with Chamorro and Filipino roots, standing to the side of Trump as people sang “Happy Birthday” really did make me cry. Flag Day this week is Trump’s birthday. Coincidentally, it’s the day my father died in 1978.

The last thing my dad did was go to Candlestick Park to see his beloved San Francisco Giants play hardball and win. Because of that, I always make it a point to see the Giants play on June 14th. This year, the Giants were in St. Louis, but I caught them on TV in a dramatic struggle. The Giants homered in the ninth to tie, then scored three times in the tenth to beat the Cardinals, 8-5.

It’s always a good omen if the Giants win on June 14th.

I’ve been telling a version of our final day together at the ball park for Father’s Day since I was on “All Things Considered” on NPR.

Here’s a version I wrote in 2012 for AALDEF.

To all the fathers out there. Happy Father’s Day.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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