US House holds two former Trump aides in contempt in Jan 6 probe

Former White House officials Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino had refused to be interviewed by panel probing Capitol riot.

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 US Capitol insurrection.
A special US House committee is investigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

The US House of Representatives has voted to hold two former advisers to ex-President Donald Trump in criminal contempt of Congress for their refusal to comply with demands from a committee investigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the United States Capitol.

The House voted 220 to 203 on Wednesday evening to send criminal referrals against Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino to the US Justice Department, which will decide whether to prosecute them.

Any prosecutions could drag on for months or years, but a conviction could carry a fine of up to $100,000 and one year in prison.

“These two witnesses have acted with contempt for Congress and the American people,” said US Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the January 6 committee, which has interviewed hundreds of witnesses over the course of its nine-month investigation.

Navarro, 72, a former White House international trade adviser, was subpoenaed in early February over his promotion of false claims that the 2020 election was marred by voter fraud, which the committee believes contributed to the Capitol riot.

Scavino, 46, a senior communications aide, was with Trump on the day of the January 6 attack and may have “materials relevant to his videotaping and tweeting” messages that day, the committee has said.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro speaks with reporters at the White House.
Congress has referred White House trade adviser Peter Navarro to the US Justice Department for criminal contempt charges for refusing to speak to investigators [Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC, in January of last year in a bid to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory. Shortly before the riot, Trump delivered an incendiary speech in which he urged his backers to “stop the steal”.

The House committee has subpoenaed several former Trump aides and Trump administration officials in its effort to understand what happened in the days leading up to and on January 6, and prevent a similar event from taking place again. But some have refused to comply.

Many Republican legislators, meanwhile, have denounced the panel’s work. Only two Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favour of Wednesday’s motion against Navarro and Scavino.

Before the vote, Representative Guy Reschenthaler challenged the legitimacy of the investigation and derided the Democrat-led House’s action as “political theatre”, while House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy accused the committee of “criminalising dissent”.

In its subpoena for Scavino last September, the committee cited reports that he was with Trump the day before the attack during a discussion about how to persuade members of Congress not to certify the election for Biden.

White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino walks across the South Lawn of the White House to board Marine One in Washington.
Former White House social media director Dan Scavino was with Trump on the day of the January 6 riot [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

The House has previously voted to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump political adviser Steve Bannon in contempt for their refusal to answer questions before the January 6 committee.

The contempt referral against Bannon quickly resulted in a criminal indictment by the Justice Department, with a trial set to start in July. But the department has been slower to decide whether to prosecute Meadows, much to the frustration of the committee.

“It’s the committee’s hope that they will present it to a grand jury,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman, told reporters on Tuesday.

Legislators have been interviewing dozens of individuals as they move closer to public hearings slated to begin later this month.

In recent days, the committee conducted lengthy interviews with Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Both were key White House advisers who had substantial access to the former president.

One person the committee has not yet approached for testimony is former Vice President Mike Pence. Thompson said investigators may not need to speak directly to him.

Aides close to Pence have already testified to the panel, including his chief of staff, Marc Short, who was at the Capitol on January 6 and accompanied Pence as he fled his post presiding over the Senate.

In the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol, Trump had publicly and privately pressured Pence to reject Biden’s election win as part of his ceremonial role overseeing Congress’s electoral count, but Pence had rebuffed him, noting he had no constitutional power to change the outcome.

Rioters who stormed the Capitol were incensed by Pence’s decision and some called for his hanging as they breached the building.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies