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Peter Navarro threatened with contempt for not turning over presidential records

Former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro could be held in contempt of court if he doesn’t turn over to emails he has that are presidential records, a federal judge said on Tuesday.

The Justice Department sued Navarro more than a year ago, trying to reclaim federal records they said he wrongfully kept after leaving the government. Navarro lost the lawsuit in DC’s federal court last spring, but the case has dragged on without him providing all of the records.

“It is clear that Defendant continues to possess Presidential records that have not been produced to their rightful owner, the United States,” federal district Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote in a 6-page opinion on Tuesday.

A magistrate judge will now be assigned to make sure Navarro returns government records to the federal government, and Kollar-Kotelly told Navarro she would look further at whether he should be held in criminal contempt of court. Navarro now must work through about 600 records to determine if they should be turned over to the federal government as presidential communications, the judge said.

The case captures a snippet of the presidential records debate that former President Donald Trump is trying to wage on a larger stage in his criminal case. Trump, like Navarro, has repeatedly tried to claim records of his are personal, and not property of the federal government.

But in Navarro’s lawsuit, Kollar-Kotelly delved into her interpretation of the presidential records law, drawing a clear line between official papers from a presidential administration and personal documents.

The judge recently looked at 50 of Navarro’s emails, a random selection which he had told the court he didn’t believe could be presidential records. But Kollar-Kotelly saw in that batch a dozen communications that she determined were official presidential records, that the government should be able to obtain, according to her opinion on Tuesday. She noted his “error rate” of producing records following the court’s order was “unacceptably high” and may mean “that many documents have been improperly withheld.”

Some of the Navarro communications she reviewed weren’t clearly in either category, Kollar-Kotelly noted, prompting her to bring in the lower-level magistrate judge to continue overseeing Navarro working through his records.

“The classification between a Presidential record and a personal record can hinge on what the covered employee prepared the material for, and what he did with the material,” the judge wrote on Tuesday.

Navarro blasted the ruling in a statement to CNN.

“Just as with President Trump, a weaponized National Archives came after me with a collusive civil suit to force disclosure of information that DOJ lawyers across the street thought they might be able to use in their criminal prosecution of me. This has obviously backfired,” he said.

“The DOJ came after me because I allegedly didn’t produce ‘clearly personal’ records regarding my work on the integrity of the 2020 election,” Navarro added. ” Now, that same ‘government’ tells me that those emails are Presidential Records and seeks to hold me in contempt for withholding them as personal?”

The case is separate from Navarro’s criminal contempt of Congress conviction, where he was successfully prosecuted by the Justice Department for failing to turn over documents and sit for testimony in the House’s January 6 probe. He has been sentenced to four months in prison, and ordered to begin serving his time within weeks, even as he appeals.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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