WASHINGTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro was found guilty on Thursday of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from a House committee investigating a 2021 attack on the Capitol.
A 12-member jury convicted Navarro of two counts of contempt after he refused to testify or hand over documents to a Democratic-led House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, riots by Trump supporters and broader efforts by Republican Trump. His 2020 election defeat should be reversed.
Navarro, a hawk on China policy who advised Trump on trade issues during his presidency and served on the COVID-19 task force, became the second close Trump ally to be punished for snubbing the panel. Last year, Steve Bannon was found guilty of contempt of Congress for defying a similar subpoena and sentenced to four months in prison. Bannon has now appealed the conviction.
Navarro said before his hearing that Trump did not have to comply with the subpoena because he invoked executive privilege, a legal doctrine that protects certain executive branch records and communications from disclosure.
But U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Navarro could not use this as a defense, finding that the defendant had not submitted evidence that Trump had properly obtained executive privilege in response to the subpoena. Defense attorney Stanley Woodward was left to argue whether Navarro’s failure to comply was an accident or a mistake.
Navarro, wearing a dark suit and red tie, showed no apparent reaction as the verdict was read aloud following nearly five hours of jury deliberations. His lawyer said he would appeal.
“The day Judge Mehta ruled that I could not exercise executive privilege in self-defense in this case, death was cast,” Navarro told reporters outside court.
These charges are punishable by a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in prison. The sentence was announced on Jan. 12.
Navarro said the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination “is fighting four different charges in three different jurisdictions. We decided not to go there” and not call Trump as a witness.
The verdict in federal court in Washington followed a day of testimony from three prosecution witnesses, former staff members of a House committee. The defense did not call any witnesses or present any evidence.
“The defendant has chosen allegiance to former President Trump in relation to complying with the subpoena,” federal prosecutor Elizabeth Aloy told jurors during earlier arguments Thursday. “That’s insulting, that’s a crime.”
‘Not over by a long shot’
Navarro’s lawyers sought a mistrial following the verdict, when jurors were allowed outside the courthouse for a break and faced angry protesters in the Capitol riots. Mehta refused to settle the claim without more information about what happened.
Navarro attorney John Rowley told reporters the case presents important legal issues that will have to be decided on appeal.
“This case is not over by a long shot,” Rowley said.
The ruling represented a victory for the Justice Department and the now-defunct select committee, which moved aggressively to obtain testimony from Trump advisers before disbanding when Republicans took over the House in January.
Many of the panel’s findings were reflected in a federal indictment obtained by special counsel Jack Smith.
The panel sought to interview Navarro about a plan he and other Trump allies hatched, the so-called “Green Bay Sweep,” to delay Congressional certification of Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. The panel concluded its work last year without interviewing Navarro.
Navarro had publicly said he would protect the presidency by not sharing information with Congress.
Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on the day Congress convened to certify Biden’s victory, attacking police and sending lawmakers and others fleeing to safety. Trump has made false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
Report by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Sarah N. Lynch is Reuters’ lead reporter covering the U.S. Justice Department outside Washington, D.C. During her time at the Beatle, she covered everything from the aftermath of the George Floyd protests to the Mueller report and the use of federal agents to suppress protesters. The department’s cases follow the murder, the widespread spread of COVID-19 in prisons and the January 6 attack on the US capital.