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Grand jury indicts former President Trump adviser Peter Navarro for contempt of Congress

Jun 3, 2022, 11:00 PM
White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro speaks to the press about former National Security Advisor ...
White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro speaks to the press about former National Security Advisor John Bolton's upcoming book release, outside of the White House in Washington, DC, on June 18, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

 (CNN) — A federal grand jury has indicted former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro for contempt of Congress after he refused to cooperate in the House January 6 committee’s investigation.

During a court appearance in Washington, DC, on Friday, Navarro said that he still wants to represent himself without a lawyer and accused prosecutors of using “hardball” tactics by arresting him at an airport and not allowing him to make a phone call.

Navarro said he was arrested at a DC-area airport Friday on his way to Nashville.

He faces two contempt counts: one for his failure to produce documents demanded by the committee and the other for failing to show up for subpoenaed testimony before House investigators.

The House had voted in April to refer Navarro to the Justice Department for not complying with the select committee’s February subpoena.

Navarro had claimed that he was unable to cooperate because former President Donald Trump had asserted executive privilege in the matter. The committee had countered those arguments by citing that many of the topics it wanted to discuss with him he had already written about in great detail in his book.

Navarro is now the second former Trump adviser to be indicted for criminal contempt of Congress for defying a January 6 committee subpoena. The first referral from the House, for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, was picked up by DOJ and has led to an indictment. He faces a criminal trial this summer. The Department of Justice on Friday informed the committee that it will not indict two other Trump allies referred for prosecution: former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and ex-deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino.

The Justice Department has come under pressure for from House Democrats and others on the left for not acting aggressively enough in its January 6 investigation, particularly as it concerns the role Trump and his inner circle played in seeking to overturn the election and in making the mass voter fraud that propelled the violent assault on the Capitol.

There have been recent indications, however, that the department has ramped up its investigation into a scheme to put forward fraudulent slates of Trump-supporting electors in states that President Joe Biden won.

At Friday’s court appearance, Judge Zia Faruqui expressed concern about allowing Navarro to represent himself. “I think it’s important that you have counsel,” the judge told him.

Navarro said he was OK with the judge appointing counsel “for today” and that he sent prosecutors an email with an attorney contact as they work this out. Navarro, who has a Ph.D in economics, is not an attorney.

“The arraignment should be postponed for a number of reasons,” Navarro added, requesting that his civil lawsuit against the House January 6 committee go forward before any criminal proceedings.

The court handling the civil case has already dinged Navarro for procedural flaws in how he structured the lawsuit.

The Justice Department did not request that Navarro be detained and while he argued the conditions of release were too strict — telling Faruqui that he was “no threat to anybody, not a flight risk” — the judge largely disagreed but allowed him to keep his passport.

Navarro will have to report to pretrial services, must notify pretrial if he is traveling, is not allowed to possess firearms or explosives and must get approval for travel outside the continental US.

His next court appearance is scheduled for June 17.

Focus on non-cooperation

The new charges against Navarro focus narrowly on his lack of compliance with the House’s investigation.

The subpoena from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia specifically requests “all documents relating to the subpoena dated February 9, 2022, that you received from the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, including but not limited to any communications with former President Trump and/or his counsel or representatives.”

In the indictment, prosecutors cite the repeated rejections Navarro received from the committee of his arguments for not complying with the subpoena.

In a February 27 email quoted by the indictment, the committee told Navarro that the committee believed that there were topics they could discuss “without any raising executive privilege concerns at all.”

“In any event, you must appear to assert any executive privilege objections on a question-by-question basis during the deposition,” the committee wrote.

When the committee referred Navarro for criminal charges earlier this year, it accused him of making no effort to comply with its subpoena request, claiming that he made it clear that he was unable to cooperate because Trump had asserted executive privilege in the matter.

Select committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson cited the executive privilege argument during Navarro’s contempt hearing.

“They potentially played a part in an attack on American democracy, but they can ignore our investigation because they worked for the government at the time. That’s their argument,” Thompson said at the time, referring to both Navarro and Scavino. “They’re not fooling anybody. They are obligated to comply with our investigation. They have refused to do so. And that’s a crime.”

The committee told Navarro that there were several topic areas it wanted to discuss with him that were not covered under privilege, but Navarro rejected the offer. Navarro also asked the committee if the proceedings would be held in public. He ultimately closed off communication with the committee and referred all questions regarding his cooperation to Trump and his attorneys.

Navarro revealed Monday that he had been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors who were seeking documents related to his decision. Navarro said in an interview with MSNBC Thursday night that he “responded” to the Justice Department, but he declined to say he would be willing to turn over the documents requested by prosecutors.

Threatens retaliation if GOP wins

In the MSNBC interview with Ari Melber, Navarro said he would “lead the charge” to pursue charges against Biden and leading Democrats if Republicans win the White House in 2024.

“You bet your a** that I will lead the charge,” Navarro said. “I will take Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin and Nancy Pelosi and Rosa DeLauro — all of those clowns and kangaroos — I’ll take Biden and every single senior staff member in there–”

“And do what?” Melber interjected.

“Hit them with subpoenas,” Navarro declared. “We’ll start with the impeachment of Biden for Ukraine, the southern border, all manner of things he is guilty of and we’ll subpoena his senior staff.”

Melber said he wanted to get on record whether Navarro, if he were to return to a position of authority in a Republican administration, would “use the Department of Justice to subpoena Democrats” he doesn’t like.

“I will push as hard as I can to use the same B.S. the Democrats are using now to try to put me in prison for standing up for principle,” Navarro said. “If they want to play that game, we’ll play it right back. They’ll hit us, we hit them back harder. That’s not what I want, Ari. Let me be clear. I do not want that.”

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Grand jury indicts former President Trump adviser Peter Navarro for contempt of Congress