September 11, 2023
Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to former President Donald Trump, was convicted on Thursday, September 7, of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, reports The New York Times.
The verdict—coming after nearly four hours of deliberation in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C.—made Navarro the second top Trump adviser to be found guilty in connection to the committee’s inquiry. Steve Bannon, a former strategist for Trump who was convicted of the same offense last summer, faces four months in prison and remains free on appeal.
Navarro, 74, stood to the side of his lawyers’ table, stroking his chin as the verdict was read aloud. Each count carries a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. A hearing to determine his sentence was scheduled for January.
Speaking outside the courthouse afterward, Navarro repeatedly vowed to appeal his conviction.
“I am willing to go to prison to settle this issue, I’m willing to do that,” he said. “But I also know that the likelihood of me going to prison is relatively small because we are right on this issue.”
The jury’s decision handed a victory to the House committee, which had sought to penalize senior members of the Trump Administration who refused to cooperate with one of the chief investigations into the Capitol riot.
The trial also amounted to an unusual test of congressional authority. Since the 1970s, referrals for criminal contempt of Congress have rarely resulted in the Justice Department’s bringing charges.
Navarro was indicted last June on two misdemeanor counts of contempt—one for failing to appear for a deposition and another for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena.
The rapid pace of the trial reflected, in part, the fact that the case turned on a straightforward question, whether Navarro had willfully defied lawmakers in flouting a subpoena. Even before the trial began, Judge Amit P. Mehta, who presided over the case, dealt a blow to Navarro by ruling that he could not use in court what he has publicly cast as his principal defense: that Trump, personally, directed him not to cooperate and that he was protected by those claims of executive privilege.
Navarro, a Harvard-trained economist and a strident critic of China, devised some of the Trump Administration’s most adversarial trade policies toward that country.
Once the pandemic took hold, he helped coordinate the United States’s response by securing equipment like face masks and ventilators. But after the 2020 election, he became more focused on plans to keep Trump in power.
Navarro was of particular interest to the committee because of his frequent television appearances, in which he cast doubt on the election results and peddled specious claims of voter fraud.
He also documented those assertions in a three-part report on purported election irregularities, as well as in a memoir he published after he left the White House. In the book, Navarro described a strategy he had devised with Bannon known as the Green Bay Sweep—aimed at overturning the results of the election in key swing states that had been called for Joe Biden.
But when the committee asked Navarro to testify last February, he repeatedly insisted that Trump had ordered him not to cooperate. By asserting executive privilege, he argued, the former president had granted him immunity from Congress’s demands.
The question of executive privilege prompted more than a year of legal wrangling over whether Navarro could invoke that at a time when Trump was no longer president. Judge Mehta ruled last week that Navarro could not raise executive privilege in his defense, saying that there was no compelling evidence that Trump had ever told him to ignore the committee.
Asked after his verdict why he had not merely asked Trump to provide testimony that corroborated his claims, Navarro said the former president was too preoccupied with his own legal troubles.
“You may have noticed that he’s fighting four different indictments in three different jurisdictions thousands of miles away, OK?” he said. “We chose not to go there.”
In closing arguments on Thursday, prosecutors and defense lawyers dueled over whether Mr. Navarro’s refusal to cooperate with the committee amounted to a willful defiance of Congress, or a simple misunderstanding.
“The defendant, Peter Navarro, made a choice,” said Elizabeth Aloi, a prosecutor. “He didn’t want to comply and produce documents, and he didn’t want to testify, so he didn’t.”
Detailing the House committee’s correspondence with Navarro, Aloi said that, even after the panel asked Navarro to explain any opposition he had to giving sworn testimony, he continued to stonewall.
“The defendant chose allegiance to [former] President Trump over compliance with the subpoena,” she said. “That is contempt. That is a crime.”
Research contact: @nytimes