POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro convicted of contempt of Congress

Sep 8, 2023, 7:30 AM

A federal jury in Washington, DC, has begun deliberating the criminal contempt of Congress charges ...

A federal jury in Washington, DC, has begun deliberating the criminal contempt of Congress charges against former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Photo credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro has been convicted of contempt of Congress for not complying to a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Navarro is the second ex-aide to the former president to be prosecuted for his lack of cooperation with the committee. Steve Bannon was convicted last year on two contempt counts. Bannon’s case is currently on appeal.

Navarro pledged to appeal based on executive privilege issues.

“We knew going in what the verdict was going to be. That is why this is going to the appeals court,” he told reporters outside the courthouse. “And we feel – look, I said from the beginning this is going to the Supreme Court. I said from the beginning I’m willing to go to prison to settle this issue, I’m willing to do that.”

Asked by CNN if he’s spoken with the former president or reached out for help on legal bills, Navarro called President Trump “a rock,” but did not elaborate on any communications.

“President Trump has been a rock in terms of assistance. We talk when we need to talk,” Navarro said. “He will win the presidential race in 2024, in November. You know why? Because the people are tired of Joe Biden weaponizing courts like this and the Department of Justice.”

After the verdict was read, Navarro’s lawyers sought a mistrial, raising concerns about any influence alleged protestors may have had when jurors took a break outdoors Thursday afternoon. US District Judge Amit Mehta did not immediately rule on the motion.

The judge scheduled Navarro’s sentencing for Jan. 12, 2024.

Tim Mulvey, former spokesperson for House January 6 committee, celebrated the verdict.

“His defiance of the committee was brazen. Like the other witnesses who attempted to stonewall the committee, he thought he was above the law. He isn’t. That’s a good thing for the rule of law. I imagine that those under indictment right now are getting a good reminder of that right now,” Mulvey told CNN in a statement.

Closing arguments

Prosecutors told the jury during closing arguments Thursday that Navarro “made a choice” not to comply with a February 2022 subpoena.

Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Aloi said that government only works if people play by the rules and are held accountable if they don’t.

“The subpoena – it is not hard to understand,” she said, adding that Navarro knew “what he was required to do and when he was required to do it.”

Navarro’s attorney Stanley Woodward contested the idea that the subpoena was simple, staying that the subpoena did not specify where in the Capitol complex Navarro was supposed to show up for his deposition.

He also said that prosecutors failed to prove that Navarro was willful in his failure to comply with the subpoena, arguing that prosecutors hadn’t established that his non-compliance with the demand for testimony was not the result of a mistake or accident.

“Why didn’t the government present evidence to you about where Dr. Navarro was or what he was doing” on the day of the scheduled deposition, Woodward asked the jury. “Something stinks.”

Prosecutor John Crabb responded: “Who cares where he was. What matters is where he wasn’t.”

Crabb repeatedly referred to Navarro as “that man’ while pointing to him, telling the jury at one point, “that man thinks he is above the law.”

The gestures elicited strong reactions from Navarro, who at times threw up his hand, shook his head or laughed. Woodward eventually jumped up and whispered to his client, and the two stood quietly together for the remainder of the proceeding.

The jury was attentive during closing arguments, watching carefully as lawyers presented their final case. Navarro stood directly across the room with his hands clasped and stared at jurors intently.

Navarro lawyers seek mistrial after juror break

After the jury was dismissed, Woodward told the judge that the defense was seeking a mistrial because they had learned the jury had taken an outdoor break shortly before rendering the verdict and that during that break, they were around a “number” of January 6-related protestors demonstrating and chanting outside of the court.

“It’s obvious the jury would have heard those protestors,” Woodward said. “It’s impossible for us to know what influence that would have” on their verdict.

Crabb challenged the idea that there were protestors in the park next to the courthouse where the jurors took their break. Woodward countered that Navarro himself had been “accosted” earlier in the day by a protestor when he was coming through that park.

Mehta said he knew that jurors had asked to take their break outside, where they were accompanied by a court security officer, but that he was not aware that protestors were in the park. He told Woodward that he was not going to rule on the mistrial request without receiving more briefing and evidence.

Navarro was briefly interrupted by protesters when he left the courthouse after the verdict was read Thursday.

It’s a “sad day for America, not ‘cause … they were guilty verdicts, because I can’t come out and have an honest, decent conversation with the people of America,” Navarro said.

“People of America, I want you to understand that this is the problem we have right here – this kind of divide in our country between the woke Marxist left and everybody else here. And this is nuts,” he added.

Quick moving trial with limited defense

Navarro joined the President Trump White House to advise on trade and became a well-known face of the Trump administration, while earning a reputation for sparring behind the scenes with his White House colleagues.

He played a prominent role in the administration’s COVID-19 response as well. He led some of the efforts to speed up the deployment of medical supplies and also was a defender of fringe Trump views about the virus, including the former president’s advocacy of the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine.

Navarro was still working at the White House in the period after the 2020 election and lost a pre-trial fight to argue to the jury that President Trump asserted an executive privilege that shielded him from the subpoena, and he and his attorneys have signaled that, if convicted, he will raise that and other legal issues on appeal.

“So today’s ‘Judgment Day,’” Navarro told reporters as he walked into the courthouse Thursday.

“I have been stripped, stripped of virtually every defense by the court and yet there is some defense left and the reality here is the government has not proved his case,” he said. “Please understand that the Biden-weaponized Department of Justice is the biggest law firm in the world. That’s what I’m fighting against.”

The trial itself moved forward this week with notable speed and simplicity. It took less than a day for the jury to hear all the evidence in the case.

Prosecutors put just three witnesses on the stand, all former staff members of the House January 6 committee. The Justice Department used their testimony to make the case that the committee had good reason to subpoena Navarro and that he was informed repeatedly of its demands.

In her closing argument, prosecutor Aloi told the jury that Navarro “had knowledge about a plan to delay the activities of Congress on January 6.”

“The defendant was more than happy to share that knowledge” in television interviews and in other public remarks, Aloi said, “except to the congressional committee that could do something about” preventing a future attack.

Woodward sought to paint the mention about the attack on the Capitol and the disruption of the peaceful transfer of power as a distraction.

“This case is not about what happened on January 6,” Woodward said in his closing argument.

Navarro’s defense team engaged in only brief cross examination, questioning just one of the government’s witnesses. His lawyers were focused on the element of the charge that requires a showing that Navarro was willful and deliberate in his decision not to comply with the subpoena – meaning that his lack of compliance was not the result of an inadvertent mistake or accident.

The defense did not put on any witnesses of their own, having abandoned a plan to call an FBI agent who worked on the Justice Department probe into Navarro for questioning on the lack of DOJ investigating into Navarro’s whereabouts on the day his committee deposition was scheduled.

Multiple sources of legal trouble for the former Trump aide

Navarro’s service as a President Trump White House aide has generated continuing legal troubles for the former trade adviser – troubles that go beyond the criminal case.

The Justice Department brought a civil lawsuit against him to obtain government records from Navarro’s personal email account that were withheld from the National Archives upon his departure from government. He has appealed the ruling against him in that case.

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Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro convicted of contempt of Congress