Peter Navarro, a former Trump economic adviser, was found guilty Thursday of contempt of Congress following a jury deliberation that lasted nearly five hours.
Navarro faced two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with a subpoena served by the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6. The first charge pertained to his failure to produce documents and the second was for failing to appear for a deposition.
The former Trump aide stood off to the side of the defense table as the verdict was read — the same posture he maintained throughout the day-long jury trial. His face and posture remained unchanged as the verdict was read.
To determine Navarro’s guilt, jurors had to find that prosecutors proved four elements: Navarro was subpoenaed, the information the committee wanted from him was pertinent to its investigation, Navarro failed to comply and his failure to comply was “willful.”
In closing arguments after a trial that lasted just one day following jury selection, Navarro attorney Stanley Woodward again compared the government’s opening arguments to a movie trailer containing all the best parts of the movie — leaving “nothing” of substance for the movie, or case, itself.
He built on the metaphor by comparing reasonable doubt to burnt popcorn. When you open a bag of burnt popcorn, you may not be able to see which pieces are burnt – but you can smell them, he said.
The government showed no evidence as to where Navarro was the day his deposition was scheduled to take place, Woodward continued, leaving room for reasonable doubt he didn’t “willfully” ignore the subpoena at all.
“Do we know his failure to comply – beyond reasonable doubt – was not [an] accident, inadvertence or mistake? Why didn’t the government present evidence about where he was, or what he was doing?” Woodward said. “Something stinks.”
But government prosecutors countered that Navarro knew he had been ordered to appear via the subpoena. Whether he believed he had a “good excuse” doesn’t have bearing on the legality of his actions, they said.
“Who cares where he was? What matters is where he wasn’t – and he wasn’t in that room to take his deposition,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb said. “He wasn’t where he was legally required to be.”
Navarro’s “good excuse” was executive privilege, which he has claimed former President Trump invoked, preventing him from giving information or testifying before the House Jan. 6 committee.
Both parties tiptoed around the issue of executive privilege throughout the trial – an argument U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta barred defense attorneys from using to prove Navarro’s innocence.
Mehta ruled last week that Navarro’s counsel failed to prove the former president invoked said privilege. The decision to invoke privilege must be made by the president, personal consideration must be involved and privilege can’t be asserted by “mere acquiescence,” Mehta determined. The act of invoking it requires “affirmative conduct,” as well, he said.
“There was no formal invocation of executive privilege by [Trump] after personal consideration nor authorization to Mr. Navarro to invoke privilege on his behalf,” Mehta said, calling defense attorneys arguments “pretty weak sauce.”
In his instructions to the jury, Mehta precluded the jury from viewing executive privilege as an excuse for Navarro’s noncompliance with the Jan. 6 committee subpoena.
Still, the issue was hard to avoid, as evidence presented at trial showed Navarro repeatedly invoking purported privilege in communication with committee staffers.
In emails between Navarro and Daniel George, senior investigative counsel for the House Jan. 6 committee, Navarro said former President Trump had invoked executive privilege and that his “hands are tied.” The ex-Trump advisor also suggested the committee should reach out to the former president on the issue, not him.
“The defendant chose allegiance to former President Trump over compliance with the subpoena,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi told the jury in closing remarks.
Woodward said the committee never reached out to Trump – a detail confirmed by George on cross-examination – and implied that Navarro’s failure to comply with the subpoena therefore was not “willful.”
“Where would we be if George had contacted Trump?” Woodward asked the jury – a question drawing an objection from prosecutors that was sustained by the judge.
Woodward also rebuffed the idea that Navarro’s allegiance to Trump played a role in his unresponsiveness to the subpoena.
“Where is that anywhere in the evidence? We don’t know that,” he said.
The government called just three witnesses in its case — all former members of the Jan. 6 committee — and the defense did not put on a case of its own. Both parties rested their cases Wednesday afternoon.
Navarro is the second former Trump ally to face contempt of Congress charges. Ex-White House adviser Steve Bannon was convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress earlier this year and sentenced to four months in prison. He has not yet served that time after a judge said he could remain free pending appeal.
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