Peter Navarro, a former top adviser to ex-President Donald Trump, has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, the Justice Department said on Friday.
A federal grand jury charged Navarro with one count involving his refusal to appear for a deposition before the January 6 Select Committee and another for his refusal to produce documents in response to a subpoena, the department said.
Navarro did not enter a plea at his 72-minute hearing before Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The former Trump adviser accused the Justice Department of “prosecutorial misconduct” for arresting him at a local airport as he tried to depart on a trip to Nashville and New York.
A longtime China hawk, Navarro advised Trump on trade issues and also served on his Covid-19 task force. He has contended previously that his communications are protected by executive privilege, a legal principle protecting a president’s communications.
His indictment came a week before the committee is due on June 9 to hold the first in a series of public hearings on its investigation. And it came two days after Navarro filed a civil lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House committee.
Trump has urged associates not to cooperate with the Democratic-led investigation, calling it politically motivated.
In its subpoena, the committee said it had reason to believe that Navarro, 72, had information relevant to its investigation.
‘Green Bay Sweep’
Navarro has said in media interviews and in his book that he helped coordinate an effort — known as the “Green Bay Sweep” — to halt certification of Biden’s victory and keep Trump in power.
Navarro faces up to a year in prison on each count, if convicted. He also faces fines but a court-appointed attorney disputed a Department of Justice assertion that he could be fined as much as $100,000 on each count, arguing instead that the maximum penalty should be $1,000.
Navarro argued at length for delaying the criminal proceedings and instead moving forward with his civil suit against the committee, arguing that the case against him stems from collusion between the Justice Department, Congress and the Biden White House.
“The prosecution has put me in an untenable position of conflicting constitutional interpretations,” Navarro said. “This is something that needs to get to the Supreme Court.”
Navarro is the second prominent Trump adviser to face criminal charges in the investigation.
Stephen Bannon, at one time the chief strategist for the former Republican president, was criminally charged in November for defying a subpoena.
The Democratic-controlled House recommended the contempt charges in April for Navarro and Daniel Scavino, a former deputy chief of staff to Trump. In December, the chamber voted in favour of a contempt charge for Mark Meadows, a former House member who became Trump’s chief of staff.
The Justice Department has not acted on the referrals for Meadows or Scavino.
The New York Times reported late on Friday that the Justice Department has decided against charging Meadows and Scavino with contempt of Congress. The newspaper cited people familiar with the matter and a letter it reviewed from a prosecutor informing the House general counsel of the decision.
The House committee did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters. The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia declined to comment.
The Select Committee has conducted more than 1,000 interviews, including many with former White House aides, as it investigates the assault by thousands of Trump supporters on January 6, 2021, as Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election.
After Trump repeated his false claims at a raucous rally that his defeat was the result of fraud, mobs rampaged through the Capitol, injuring police officers and sending Pence, lawmakers, staff and journalists fleeing for safety.
Four people died on the day of the attack, and one Capitol Police officer who fought with rioters died the next day. Four officers have since taken their own lives.