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Prosecutors tell jury Navarro thought he was ‘above the law’

Defense says 'trailer ... is better than the movie'

The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is pictured on June 21, 2022.
The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is pictured on June 21, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Peter Navarro, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, thumbed his nose at Congress, prosecutors told a jury at the outset of a trial Wednesday over charges that Navarro ignored a subpoena from the House select panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. 

Prosecutors argued Navarro ignored his legal responsibility to provide testimony and documents to the select committee. Numerous legal issues, particularly the role of Navarro’s assertions that executive privilege prevented him from testifying, lurked in the background of the presentation to the jury.

District Judge Amit P. Mehta is overseeing the rare trial on two contempt of Congress charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The defense didn’t call any witnesses and both sides rested their cases Wednesday. The parties planned to present closing arguments and the judge is expected to send the case to the jury Thursday.

John Crabb, one of the prosecutors, in his opening statement, invoked the violent attack on the Capitol that led the House to establish the select committee and the panel’s February 2022 subpoena to compel Navarro to provide information. Crabb argued the committee wanted information that Navarro repeatedly talked about publicly, including in a book about his time in the White House, and that Navarro didn’t produce any documents.

“Mr. Navarro ignored his subpoena. He acted as if he is above the law,” Crabb said. 

Stan Woodward, Navarro’s defense attorney, told the jury the prosecutors offered a trailer of evidence that wouldn’t live up to the hype, saying “the trailer…is better than the movie.” Woodward argued that Navarro communicated repeatedly with the committee and asked it to get in touch with Trump to discuss executive privilege issues.

“The evidence in this case will not show Dr. Navarro was willful in his failure to comply,” Woodward told the jury.

The prosecution sprang from Navarro’s refusal to provide documents or testimony to the select committee in response to the subpoena. The case had been delayed for months due to legal wrangling over Navarro’s argument that Trump invoked executive privilege to keep him from cooperating.

Before the trial, Mehta repeatedly ruled against Navarro on the claims of executive privilege — first that it couldn’t be used to jettison the case entirely, and last week that it couldn’t be used as a formal defense. Mehta ruled Tuesday that the government could still mention Navarro’s claims at trial. 

The government’s first witness on Wednesday, former select committee staff director David Buckley, testified the panel issued the subpoena to seek information about the lead-up to the attack on the Capitol.

Daniel George, the former committee investigative counsel who is now at the Justice Department, testified that investigators wanted to speak with Navarro due to multiple public claims he made about the 2020 election, including a report he published online titled “The Immaculate Deception.” 

“We thought he had information that was very relevant to what my team was doing,” said George.

He testified that he received approval to issue the subpoena and sent it to Navarro by email on Feb. 9, 2022. George also said Navarro claimed “executive privilege” before he actually sent the subpoena.

“I didn’t make much of that quite frankly because we had not communicated with Mr. Navarro what we wanted to ask about,” George said.

Prosecutors called three witnesses, including Buckley, George and committee attorney Marc Harris.

Navarro spent much of the opening hours of the trial standing on the side of the courtroom pacing or watching the testimony with his chin resting on one hand. He faces up to a year in prison for each count.

Prosecutions for contempt of Congress are rare. The only two in the past decade were related to subpoenas from the select committee on Jan. 6. The House, controlled by Democrats in the last Congress, referred several recalcitrant witnesses for criminal contempt of Congress over their refusal to answer subpoenas. 

The Biden administration pursued indictments against two: Navarro and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Bannon was convicted on two counts of contempt of Congress last year and has appealed. His case is set for argument in October at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.