Donald Trump's last-minute intervention delays contempt trial of former aide Peter Navarro
WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump's last-minute assertion of executive privilege forced a postponement in the trial of former trade adviser Peter Navarro on two counts of contempt of Congress.
Navarro defied a subpoena from the House committee that investigated the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, by citing executive privilege. But government lawyers had argued Trump never formally claimed the privilege to keep his communications with Navarro confidential since the subpoena was issued nearly a year ago.
A week before the trial was scheduled to begin Monday, Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran provided Navarro a letter claiming executive privilege. At a hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta postponed the trial to allow lawyers for Navarro and the government to file written arguments about the claim.
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Here is what we know about the case so far:
Navarro is the second official prosecuted after a recommendation from the House panel. He faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine on each count for defying a subpoena for documents and testimony.
Navarro asked Mehta to dismiss the charges, but Mehta refused. Mehta also limited the defenses Navarro can raise at trial.
Mehta set deadlines for arguments about executive privilege to be filed by Feb. 28 from the government and by March 31 by Navarro's lawyers.
Steve Bannon, a Trump political strategist, was sentenced to four months in jail after he was convicted of contempt of Congress for defying his subpoena. He has appealed.
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Why was Peter Navarro charged?
The Jan. 6 committee sought to question him because in his 2021 book "In Trump Time," Navarro described the scheme to delay certification of the 2020 election of President Joe Biden as the "Green Bay Sweep" and said it was the "last, best chance to snatch a stolen election from the Democrats’ jaws of deceit."
The committee said in its letter to Navarro seeking his testimony that he had said Trump and "more than 100 members of Congress were 'on board with the strategy.'" The committee also said Navarro released a three-page report on his website that repeated claims of purported fraud in the election that have been discredited in public reporting by state and local officials.
Navarro replied to the committee by email on Feb. 27, 2022, that Trump invoked executive privilege to keep their communications confidential. “Accordingly, my hands are tied,” Navarro wrote.
Corcoran wrote in his letter that Trump regularly discussed matters of critical importance to trade and manufacturing policy with Navarro that were important to the country's security.
"It is critical to the functioning of the Office of the President that your communications with President Trump remain confidential," Corcoran wrote. "A President's expectation of confidentiality in the communications he has with senior aides is protected by the United States Constitution from intrusions by Congress and other third parties."
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How did Biden and the committee respond?
The White House counsel's office sent Navarro a letter the day after his email refusing to testify saying Biden had "determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the national interest, and therefore is not justified, with respect to particular subjects within the purview of the Select Committee."
Government lawyers also argued that even if Navarro wanted to claim executive privilege, he had to attend the scheduled deposition and assert it for specific questions asked.
The committee rejected Navarro's "stated reason for noncompliance with the subpoena and informed (him) again that he could assert any objections he may have on the record, on a question-by-question basis," the committee said in a letter on March 1, 2022.
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What led to the Navarro trial?
The committee issued the subpoena on Feb. 9, 2022, for Navarro to provide documents and testimony. The committee said he could refuse to answer questions based on executive privilege, but that he must appear.
Federal courts upheld the committee’s authority to subpoena documents and testimony. A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Biden's decision not to invoke executive privilege outweighed Trump’s claim.
The House voted in April to hold Navarro in contempt.
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Judge refused to dismiss Navarro case
Navarro asked Mehta to dismiss the charges, raising complaints that Republicans repeated about the committee. But Mehta refused in a ruling on Jan. 19 and limited the defenses Navarro could raise at trial.
Besides claiming executive privilege, Navarro challenged the committee’s legitimacy because of how it was organized, with fewer members than authorized and none nominated by the then-Republican minority. But Mehta rejected the arguments, finding House rules allowed the committee chairman to issue subpoenas on his own and Navarro hadn’t challenged the House rules.
Navarro also argued the committee lacked a legislative purpose. But Mehta said the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had already ruled the panel “plainly had a ‘valid legislative purpose’” in another subpoena case.
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Judge limits Navarro's arguments
Mehta also limited the defenses Navarro could raise at trial to prevent “irrelevant evidence and argument.” Mehta prohibited defenses based on Navarro’s beliefs about the law, his argument he was singled out for prosecution, his allegations of government misconduct, or the committee’s composition.
“Defendant cannot assert as a defense that he refused to appear because he had a good faith belief that he was not legally required to do so,” Mehta wrote.
In dealing with potential penalties from the charges, Navarro argued that “his crimes do not matter” because “they are misdemeanors.” But Mehta ruled he couldn’t raise that argument in front of the jury because the penalties are irrelevant to whether he is guilty of the crimes charged.
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Jan. 6 committee also recommended Trump be charged
The committee recommended contempt charges against two other Trump aides: former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino. The Justice Department declined to prosecute them without explanation.
The committee also recommended charges against Trump and his personal lawyer John Eastman, including obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to investigate Trump, but the department hasn’t made a decision on potential charges yet.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump intervened to delay contempt trial for aide Peter Navarro