Jan 6 contempt trial of former Trump aide Peter Navarro to begin after court rejects claims of executive privilege

"President Trump has invoked Executive Privilege in this matter... Accordingly, my hands are tied."

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

The trial of former Trump aide Peter Navarro is set to begin next week, where a judge and jury will rule on contempt charges he faces for alleged non-compliance with a subpoena from the House Select Committee on January 6. Jury selection in the United States of America v Peter Navarro is set to begin in Washington, DC on Tuesday.

The committee, convened under former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson, sought to prove that Trump incited an insurrection when supporters staged a riot at the Capitol after a speech on January 6, 2021. One unarmed woman was killed during that incident, shot by Capitol Police.

On Wednesday, Judge Amit P. Mehta said that he is not permitted to argue to a jury that he was unable to comply with the subpoena issued by the Committee due to executive privilege. The Committee's term came to an end prior to the convening of the new Congress in January.

Navarro has said that his communications with Trump come under the then-president's executive privilege. He told the Committee in February 2022, three days after he was told to appear, that "President Trump has invoked Executive Privilege in this matter... Accordingly, my hands are tied."

The Committee rejected Navarro's assertion, saying in response that they rejected his "stated reason for noncompliance with the subpoena," and told him that he must attend the scheduled deposition.

Navarro replied the next say, reasserting his claim that his communications were protected under Trump's executive privilege. He said that the "privilege is not mine to waive," and went on to say that it would be "incumbent on the Committee to directly negotiate with President Trump and his attorneys regarding any and all things related to this matter."

White House Counsel got involved at that point, which advised Navarro that President Joe Biden "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."

Navarro did not appear for the scheduled deposition, and the purported rights of the previous president were at odds with the wishes of the new president. Trump interpreted the rules surrounding executive privilege one way, whereas Biden clearly viewed them in a different light.

Navarro moved to have the indictment dismissed, saying that it is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers for Congress to overrule the White House assertion of privilege. The defense said that "senior counselors for the president are absolutely immune from compelled Congressional process and therefore cannot be prosecuted for noncompliance."

In his defense, he said that it does not matter if he "was not a senior advisor to a sitting President at the time be received the subpoena," and that "a former President has the right to assert executive privilege, which cannot be unilaterally undone by the sitting President." He addressed Biden's declaration opposing the assertion, saying that "President Biden's determination not to assert executive privilege therefore does not defeat his claim of immunity."

Navarro was indicted and charged by a grand jury with two counts of Contempt of Congress in June 2022 for allegedly not complying with a subpoena issued by that committee to compel him to appear before it, answer questions, and turn over documents. The first count is over not having provided documents, while the second count is for not appearing for the deposition.

He was arrested at DC's National Airport when trying to board a flight to Nashville in June 2022. He was arrested, put in handcuffs and leg irons, and was not allowed to phone an attorney, which is a violation of his miranda rights. Judge Mehta said after the arrest that it was not an appropriate way for law enforcement to handle it. 

"It is curious," Mehta said, "...at a minimum why the government treated Mr. Navarro’s arrest in the way it did. It is a federal crime, but it is not a violent crime." 

"It is a surprise to me that self-surrender was not offered," Mehta said.

The subpoena from the committee was issued on February 9, 2022, and demanded that he appear and deliver documents by February 23, 2022, with a requirement that he be deposed on March 2, 2022. The indictment alleges that Navarro refused to appear or produce documents. If convicted, Navarro could face up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per count.

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