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Jury convicts Trump adviser Navarro for contempt of Congress

Navarro refused to testify to Jan. 6 select committee

Peter Navarro, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Peter Navarro, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal jury found Peter Navarro, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress on Thursday following about five hours of deliberation.

Judge Amit P. Mehta for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia set sentencing for Jan. 12 in the case, which sprang out of Navarro’s refusal to cooperate with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Navarro faces up to a year in prison for each count.

Throughout the case Navarro argued that he should be shielded from testifying due to executive privilege. Mehta, however, found no evidence that Trump invoked executive privilege and said before the trial that it couldn’t serve as a defense in the case.

Elizabeth Aloi, one of the prosecutors, said Navarro ignored a subpoena from a committee investigating “one of the darkest days of democracy” in a closing argument Thursday that frequently invoked the violent attack.

Committee investigators testified that they wanted to speak with Navarro because of his public statements alleging fraud in the 2020 election. Navarro had spoken about his allegations for months, but Aloi said he deliberately chose not to follow the committee’s subpoena.

“The defendant was more than happy to share that knowledge with the public, with his book, with the news, with anyone who asked, except for the congressional committee who could do something about it,” Aloi said.

After months of litigation over Navarro’s assertions of executive privilege, Mehta ultimately instructed the jury that Navarro’s belief that executive privilege excused him from complying with the subpoena wasn’t a defense “nor is his actual assertion of executive privilege a defense for his contempt of Congress.”

Aloi hammered on that point in the closing argument, reiterating that even if Navarro “believed he had a good excuse it does not matter, as the judge noted it is not a defense to contempt.”

After the verdict, Navarro told reporters he planned to appeal the case over the executive privilege issue due to the trial judge’s rulings against him.

“We knew going in what the verdict was going to be, that is why we are going to the appeals court,” Navarro said.

The government called three witnesses during the evidentiary portion of the trial Wednesday and Navarro’s defense called none. Navarro’s attorneys only engaged in brief cross-examination of the witnesses.

Navarro’s assertions of executive privilege have haunted the trial, including in the government’s successful objection to Navarro attorney Stan Woodward’s mention of executive privilege during closing arguments. Woodward focused much of his closing argument on whether the government had proved Navarro willfully defied the subpoena.

Before Mehta instructed the jury, he rejected Woodward’s effort to show the jury a map of the Capitol complex as part of an argument that the government didn’t prove where Navarro was at the time of his scheduled deposition.

Mehta added a caveat that the jury shouldn’t hold against Navarro statements that described the deadly attack as “domestic terrorism” and “causing trauma” that were part of the House resolution establishing the select committee.

Prosecutions for contempt of Congress are rare. The only other one in the last decade was last year, also tied to a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the attack. 

In the last Congress, the House, controlled by Democrats, referred several recalcitrant witnesses for criminal contempt of Congress over requests from the select committee. 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, which he has appealed. His appeal is set for argument in October at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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