Trump adviser Peter Navarro guilty of contempt for dodging Jan 6 subpoena

Navarro has become the second Trump ally to be found guilty of defying a subpoena related to the US Capitol attack.

A white-haired man in a dark suit and red tie walks through an outdoor area with leafy potted trees and reporters standing nearby.
Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro arrives at the US Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC, on September 7 [Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to former United States President Donald Trump, has been convicted of two misdemeanour counts of criminal contempt after prosecutors said he defied a congressional subpoena compelling him to submit evidence about the 2021 Capitol attack.

A 12-member jury deliberated for four hours on Thursday before handing in the verdict in a federal district court in Washington, DC.

Navarro is now the second major Trump ally to be convicted of contempt, after former White House adviser Steve Bannon was likewise convicted in July 2022 for dodging a subpoena.

“The defendant chose allegiance to former President Trump over compliance with the subpoena,” prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi said of Navarro in Thursday’s closing arguments. “That is contempt. That is a crime.”

 Former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro speaks to the media as he departs federal court, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, in Washington. Navarro was convicted Thursday, Sept. 7, of contempt of Congress charges filed after he was accused of refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Dressed in a suit and tie, Navarro waves — but behind him are protesters carrying signs.
Peter Navarro speaks to the media as he arrives at a Washington, DC, federal court on September 5, 2023 [File: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo]

The subpoena had called Navarro to testify and submit documents to a select committee in the House of Representatives investigating the deadly Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.

At the time, supporters of then-President Trump stormed the Capitol, in an attempt to overturn the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

An adviser for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and later for his White House, Navarro had been a vocal advocate of the false belief that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from Trump – a belief that helped motivate the January 6 attack.

“Peter Navarro made a choice. He chose not [to] abide by the congressional subpoena,” Aloi told jurors.

But Navarro’s defence team rejected that argument, saying the prosecutors failed to prove he had “willfully” avoided the subpoena.

Navarro’s noncompliance, defence lawyer Stanley Woodward explained, could have been the result of “inadvertence, accident or mistake”.

“We don’t know that he wasn’t stuck on the metro,” Woodward said of his client’s failure to appear before the House select committee on March 2, 2022. He argued that prosecutors had failed to pin down exactly where Navarro was or what he was doing at that time, leaving doubt over whether his actions amounted to contempt.

Shortly after the verdict, Woodward also moved for a mistrial, claiming that jurors had interacted with protesters during an outdoor lunch break on Thursday. Judge Amit Mehta, who presided over the case, called for more information to be presented before he ruled either way.

Executive privilege argument barred

Mehta had previously barred the defence from presenting the argument that Navarro’s actions were protected under executive privilege, as a former member of the Trump White House.

Navarro and other Trump officials have maintained that the former president directed them not to cooperate with the January 6 investigation. However, Mehta ruled that there was no evidence such an order was ever given: “I still don’t know what the president said.”

After the verdict, Navarro blamed Mehta’s decision for the jury’s outcome.

“The day that Judge Mehta ruled that I could not use executive privilege as the defence in this case, the die was cast,” Navarro told reporters.

The Trump adviser also took to social media to denounce the proceedings as politically motivated and raise money for his defence.

“Jury in deliberations now. We’re in God’s hands,” he wrote as he awaited the verdict. “The only thing certain are more legal bills. That’s the Democrat’s lawfare game.”

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for January 12, 2024. Navarro faces anywhere from 30 days to a year in jail, as well as a fine of up to $100,000.

A speedy trial

The trial took place swiftly, with the prosecution calling three witnesses and the defence calling none at all.

Two of the prosecution witnesses served as investigative counsel on the now-defunct House select committee. The third was the committee’s staff director.

In their testimony, they explained that they had planned to question Navarro over his allegations of widespread voter fraud, claims that have never been proven.

Investigators had hoped to zero in on projects like the “Green Bay Sweep”, a strategy outline Navarro and his fellow adviser Bannon had devised to allegedly keep Trump in power.

Named for a celebrated US football team, the Green Bay Packers, the “Green Bay Sweep” proposed to pressure key battleground states to decertify their election results and use Republican members of Congress to delay the certification of the Electoral College votes on January 6, 2021.

The House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack concluded its work in December 2022, without receiving evidence from Navarro or Bannon.

In its final report, however, the committee accused Trump and his allies of leading a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the attack. It also recommended criminal charges.

Trump has since faced four criminal indictments, two of which pertain to alleged interference in the 2020 election. One is on the state level, the other federal. Trump is the first president, current or former, to face criminal charges. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Bannon, meanwhile, was sentenced in October 2022 to four months in jail after being convicted of two counts of contempt for failing to cooperate with his subpoena from the January 6 committee.

He also faces a $6,500 fine. But the sentence is currently on hold, as Bannon pursues an appeal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies