The Department of Justice has asked for a six-month prison sentence for former Trump aide Peter Navarro for contempt of Congress.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors argued in a 20-page filing that Mr Navarro put his loyalty to former President Donald Trump above the law when he declined to work with the House Select Committee looking into the Capitol riot on 6 January 2021.
Mr Navarro, who was a trade and pandemic adviser in the Trump White House who later pushed baseless claims of voter fraud, acted without a lawyer as he defied a subpoena from the House, instead relying on a press statement issued by former President Donald Trump in November 2021 saying that he didn’t have to work with another committee that was looking into the handling of the pandemic, prosecutors argued.
The 74-year-old was found guilty of two charges of contempt in September last year after he refused to testify or hand over documents after receiving a House subpoena in February 2022.
“In a cover letter accompanying the subpoena, the Committee gave the Defendant some examples of why the Committee believed the Defendant had relevant information, including that it had been reported that the Defendant had worked with various individuals to change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and that the Defendant had publicly repeated discredited claims of election fraud,” DoJ prosecutors write in their filing.
The sentencing memo begins with DoJ noting that “when Peter K Navarro was served with a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, he thumbed his nose at Congressional authority and refused to comply – even before knowing what information the Committee sought. He cloaked his bad-faith strategy of defiance and contempt behind baseless, unfounded invocations of executive privilege and immunity that could not and would never apply to his situation”.
“The Defendant, like the rioters at the Capitol, put politics, not country, first, and stonewalled Congress’s investigation,” they added.
The prosecutors argued that Mr Navarro’s refusal to comply worsened the damage made to Congress.
“The rioters who overran the Capitol on January 6, 2021, did not just attack a building – they assaulted the rule of law upon which this country was built and through which it endures. By flouting the Committee’s subpoena and its authority to investigate that assault, the Defendant exacerbated that assault, following the attack on Congress with his rejection of its authority,” they write in their conclusion.
Prosecutors have already requested a six-month sentence for right-wing podcaster Steve Bannon, a former Trump White House chief strategist. In October 2022, he was sentenced to four months in prison, but the sentence is suspended pending an appeal.
Mr Navarro or Mr Bannon could become the first person in more than 50 years sent to prison for defying a congressional subpoena under a statute that’s seldom used, The Washington Post noted.
US District Judge Amit Mehta scheduled the sentencing hearing for next Thursday. Mr Navarro’s lawyers asked for probation, noting that their client didn’t think he had to comply with the subpoena because Mr Trump had invoked his executive privilege over his testimony.
Mr Navarro’s attorneys John Irving, John Rowley III and Stanley Woodward III argued that “Dr Navarro’s trial and conviction involves a series of firsts: the first time an incumbent President waived the executive privilege of a former President; the first time a senior presidential advisor was charged with contempt of congress by the Justice Department, let alone the Justice Department of a political rival”.
“Dr Navarro’s sentence should not be disproportionate from those similarly situated individuals,” they added about those who have previously defied congressional subpoenas.
Mr Rowley has said that Mr Navarro is planning on appealing his conviction.
Mr Navarro’s plan to overturn the 2020 election included getting Trump allies in both chambers of Congress to contest ballots from six states won by Mr Biden to drag out the process of certifying his electoral college victory and eventually throwing the election to the House, where Mr Trump had many supporters, according to his memoir and interviews with media outlets, including The Daily Beast.
Mr Navarro said his responsibility was to hand evidence of fraud to lawmakers to make the challenges to the ballots justified, while Mr Bannon’s role was to build support for the plan among the GOP members, The Post noted.