Peter Navarro, a White House aide to then-President Donald Trump who claimed credit for devising a plan to overturn the 2020 election, faces sentencing Thursday morning for ignoring a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to impose on Navarro the same “severe” penalty of six months incarceration that they requested for Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump political adviser, with whom Navarro said he worked on a plan to delay and ultimately change the outcome of Congress’s formal count of the 2020 presidential election results.
Navarro would be the second Trump aide to be sentenced for stonewalling Congress’s Jan. 6 investigation, after Bannon received four months behind bars, a punishment that has been put on hold pending appeal. Navarro is also expected to appeal his conviction. Either Bannon or Navarro could become the first person incarcerated for defying a congressional subpoena in more than half a century under a statute that is rarely prosecuted and that is punishable by up to a year behind bars.
Navarro, 74, was found guilty in September of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to produce documents or testify after receiving a House subpoena in February 2022. Lawmakers had asked Navarro, a former trade and pandemic adviser who served throughout Trump’s term in office, about his claim of working with Bannon on an operation called “The Green Bay Sweep.” The plan aimed to get Trump loyalists in Congress to contest ballots from six swing states that Biden won and throw the election to the House, though claims of voter fraud were repudiated by state officials and the courts.
Prosecutors accused Navarro of pursuing a “bad-faith strategy of defiance and contempt,” putting allegiance to Trump and partisan politics over country and the rule of law in refusing to cooperate with House investigators probing the breach on the Capitol that came after Trump urged his supporters to march to Congress. Five people died in or immediately after the rioting, which led to assaults on least 140 police officers, caused $3 million in damage and forced the evacuation of lawmakers.
“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,” assistant U.S. attorneys Elizabeth Aloi and John Crabb Jr. wrote.
Navarro’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta for probation, saying the judge at one point seemed to acknowledge that Navarro genuinely thought Trump had invoked executive privilege, a provision under the Constitution’s separation-of-powers principle to preserve the confidentiality of White House discussions from Congress.
Mehta ultimately rejected Navarro’s claim, finding after holding an evidentiary hearing that whatever Navarro thought, he failed to prove the existence of a conversation or a formal invocation of privilege by Trump that directed Navarro not to cooperate with lawmakers.
“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 adviser was charged with contempt of Congress by the Justice Department, let alone the Justice Department of a political rival,” attorneys John S. Irving, John P. Rowley III and Stanley E. Woodward Jr. wrote.
“Dr. Navarro’s sentence should not be disproportionate from those similarly situated individuals,” his lawyers argued, saying he should not face jail for actions that matched those of past presidential advisers who had avoided incarceration.
Before charging Navarro, a Harvard-trained economist and author of several books on U.S.-China trade policies, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington opted not to take legal action against two other Trump officials who were referred by the House Jan. 6 committee for contempt prosecutions: former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and communications chief Dan Scavino. Both had received letters from a lawyer for the former president directing them not to respond to subpoenas from the committee, citing executive privilege.
“Had the President issued a similar letter to Defendant, the record here would look very different,” Mehta said in Navarro’s case. The judge noted that the Biden administration also had made clear it was not asserting the privilege in his case, saying it was not in the national interest.
Prosecutors argued that Navarro, acting without an attorney, rebuffed the committee’s request and erroneously relied on a press statement issued by then-President Trump in November 2020 that said Navarro did not have to cooperate with a different committee investigating the pandemic response.