Contempt of Congress trial for Peter Navarro set to begin


Washington — A top trade adviser during the Trump administration is set to stand trial this week for two counts of criminal contempt of Congress after prosecutors alleged he willfully and illegally refused to respond to subpoenas for documents and testimony from the now-defunct House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack

Jury selection in Peter Navarro’s criminal trial is set to begin Tuesday when a federal judge has said he intends to clear at least 50 potential jurors from a group of Washington, D.C. residents to fill just over a dozen seats on the final jury panel. 

Despite years of legal wrangling and briefing schedules between prosecutors and defense attorneys, Navarro’s trial is only set to last days as prosecutors successfully argued that he should be barred from employing certain explanations that he said were crucial to his defense. 

The Jan. 6 committee initially subpoenaed Navarro in Feb. 2022  for records and testimony  as part of its investigation into efforts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. After he refused to comply with the requests, Congress voted to refer the matter to the Justice Department. Navarro was then indicted on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress. He pleaded not guilty. 

Court Hearing Held To Decide Trial Start Date In Trump's Federal Election Case
Peter Navarro, an advisor to former U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at federal court on August 28, 2023 in Washington, DC. Navarro has a status hearing scheduled today related to his contempt of Congress case.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Congressional investigators at the time were interested in efforts by Navarro and others to postpone  the Electoral College certification of the 2020 presidential election, a plan they allegedly referred to as the “Green Bay Sweep.”

Navarro’s defense team, which includes a former Trump criminal defense attorney and three lawyers currently involved in the special counsel’s classified documents probe, argued their client should be permitted to tell the jury that the former president told him to invoke executive privilege protections against the subpoena. But prosecutors argued — and Judge Amit Mehta ultimately agreed — that there was no evidence that former President Donald Trump formally worked to shield Navarro from the committee. Navarro is consequently not permitted to present the privilege as evidence at trial. 

“It was clear during that call that privilege was invoked, very clear,” Navarro told the judge at a hearing last week, describing a 2022 call he said he and Trump had about the Committee subpoena. The defense, however, was unable to provide any documented evidence that the privilege was officially invoked, a defect that Navarro’s legal team acknowledged. 

Tuesday’s proceedings mark the beginning of the Justice Department’s second criminal trial tied to the expired select committee. Last year, Trump adviser and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was found guilty of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress. He was sentenced to four months in jail, but he is currently out of prison as his defense team appeals the conviction based on a legal dispute of their own. 

The committee referred to other Trump aides — Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino — to the Justice Department for contempt charges, but the government ultimately declined to prosecute them. 

Navarro has consistently spoken out against his prosecution and unsuccessfully petitioned Mehta to dismiss the charges against him. 

If convicted, he faces a maximum of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each count. 

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