Peter Navarro convicted of contempt for defying Jan. 6 select committee

Peter Navarro convicted of contempt for defying Jan. 6 select committee
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The former Trump adviser, who strategized to delay certification of the 2020 election, will now face prison time on two criminal counts of contempt of Congress.

Peter Navarro, a former White House adviser to Donald Trump, has been found guilty on two contempt-of-Congress charges for defying a subpoena from the House Jan. 6 select committee.

A jury returned the unanimous conviction Thursday after a four-hour deliberation, which followed a two-day trial featuring testimony from three former Jan. 6 committee staffers. Each count carries a one-year maximum sentence, and Navarro intends to appeal the verdict.

Navarro faced the two charges for what prosecutors say was his brazen defiance of the select committee’s effort to obtain evidence about his knowledge and involvement in Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election. Each charge carries a maximum of one year in prison.

“Our government only works when people play by the rules and it only works when people are held accountable when they do not,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi during closing arguments Thursday. “When a person intentionally and deliberately chooses to defy a congressional subpoena, that is a crime.”

“The defendant chose allegiance to former President Trump over compliance with a subpoena,” Aloi continued. “The defendant chose defiance.”

The two-day trial, which included fewer than three hours of witness testimony — all from the former staffers of the Jan. 6 committee — belied the torturous 15-month journey to put the case before a jury at all.

Navarro has long claimed that Trump told him to defy the committee’s Feb. 9, 2022 subpoena and assert executive privilege, a demand he said conferred immunity from having to cooperate with Congress’ investigation. For months, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta wrestled with intricate questions about how executive privilege might apply to a former adviser to a former president, whether Navarro’s belief that Trump had invoked the privilege constituted a defense to the charges and how the Justice Department’s decision to charge him compares with its longstanding views of immunity for some senior executive branch officials from compelled congressional testimony.

Mehta ruled that legal precedents barred Navarro from arguing that he believed executive privilege excused him from complying with the select committee. Mehta also agreed that Navarro had failed to present any persuasive evidence that Trump had in fact asserted privilege.

Ultimately, all that prosecutors had to prove was that he deliberately chose not to testify before the committee or hand over the documents the committee demanded. Navarro and his attorneys appeared resigned to having few defenses — they presented no witnesses and only briefly cross-examined one prosecution witness — and instead are pinning their hopes on an appeal that might invalidate some of the longstanding limits on arguments for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

During the brief trial, prosecutors walked the jury through the timeline of Navarro’s receipt of the committee’s subpoena, his email exchanges with committee staffer Daniel George and his ultimately refusal to appear.

The committee repeatedly told Navarro it anticipated his cooperation and that, even if Trump had, in fact, claimed executive privilege, he was still required to appear and assert the privilege on a question-by-question basis. And Trump’s purported privilege invocation did not absolve Navarro from having to produce documents, they added, or at least submit a log of records he claimed were off-limits to the committee.

Committee staffers also described the reason it wanted Navarro’s cooperation: While serving as Trump’s trade adviser and a key player in the administration’s Covid response, Navarro had turned his focus to the 2020 election. He repeatedly took to TV and publicly claimed to have extensive evidence of election fraud that could warrant overturning the 2020 election and claimed to have been an architect of a strategy — dubbed the “Green Bay Sweep” — to have congressional Republicans delay the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Navarro claimed, at the time, to have secured support from more than 100 lawmakers for the plan. And Trump’s infamous Dec. 19, 2020 tweet — exhorting followers to descend on Washington for a “wild” protest against the election results — began with a reference to Navarro’s post-election report that included numerous discredited claims of election fraud.

After Navarro refused the panel’s demands, the House held him in contempt of Congress, forwarding the case to the Justice Department, which charged Navarro in June 2022. Those charges came seven months after a close Trump ally, Steve Bannon, was similarly charged for defying the Jan. 6 select committee. Bannon was convicted in July 2022 and is fighting the matter on appeal.

Navarro’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, had few arguments he was permitted to make to the jury. But he accused the government of hyping the case against Navarro by invoking the harrowing violence of Jan. 6 in front of the jury. He also argued that prosecutors had failed to prove that Navarro, despite failing to appear or provide documents, had done so “willfully,” a legal standard that requires his decision to be “deliberate and intentional.”

He said prosecutors presented no evidence about where Navarro actually was when he declined to appear before the committee, suggesting that the Justice Department failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Navarro’s decision to blow off the committee was deliberate.

“Where was Dr. Navarro on March 2, 2022?” Woodward said, referring to the date Navarro was due to appear before the select committee for a deposition. “We don’t know. … Why didn’t the government present evidence to you about where Dr. Navarro was or what he was doing? Something stinks.”

In a rebuttal argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb urged jurors to reject Woodward’s argument.

“Who cares where [Navarro] was? What matters is where he wasn’t,” Crabb said. “He wasn’t where he was legally required to be.”

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