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Navarro sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress convictions

Judge hands down 4-month term for former Trump adviser who defied subpoena

Peter Navarro, former trade adviser to Donald Trump, arrives Thursday at a federal courthouse in Washington to be sentenced for contempt of Congress.
Peter Navarro, former trade adviser to Donald Trump, arrives Thursday at a federal courthouse in Washington to be sentenced for contempt of Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A federal judge sentenced former Trump adviser Peter Navarro to four months in prison Thursday for ignoring subpoenas from the House select panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, when handing down the sentence at a hearing Thursday, told Navarro that he faced “circumstances of your own making.”

“You are not a victim. You are not a victim of political prosecution. You are not,” Mehta said. “They had a job and you made it harder, it is really that simple.”

Navarro has argued throughout the proceeding that he had to assert executive privilege on behalf of former President Donald Trump and refuse to comply with the Jan. 6 committee subpoena.

Mehta noted that he thought Navarro had a good faith belief he had to invoke the privilege, but “that is not a legal defense, in my view.”

“The words executive privilege are not magic words,” Mehta said. “It is not a get out of jail free card.”

Mehta left open whether Navarro would have to serve the sentence pending the likely appeal of his conviction based on the arguments related to executive privilege. Navarro’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, asked to file a brief next week on the issue.

Mehta also assessed a $9,500 fine and $50 special assessment.

A jury convicted Navarro in September on two counts of contempt of Congress charges for refusing to give documents or testimony to the panel.

Prosecutors Thursday pushed for a sentence of six months in prison and a maximum fine for Navarro, arguing he ignored a valid subpoena and has not shown any remorse.

“He just thumbed his nose at the committee,” Justice Department prosecutor John Crabb said.

Mehta pointed out that Navarro had spoken publicly about subjects covered by the subpoena, which included a report about the election he released in 2020 and a later book he wrote.

“You’re more than happy to speak to the press, to write about it in your book, but you were not willing to go to the Hill and talk to them,” Mehta said.

Navarro addresses judge

Navarro himself spoke during the hearing, noting it was against the advice of his attorneys. Navarro said he felt trapped between Congress and his obligation to Trump.

“I didn’t know what to do, sir,” Navarro said. “The learning curve when they come at you with the largest law firm in the world is pretty steep.”

Mehta took issue with some of Navarro’s statements in court and said some public statements Navarro put out in response to the subpoena and prosecution sought to “mislead” the public about the case.

Navarro’s statements about the involvement of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi or President Joe Biden in the case “contribute to why our politics are so corrosive,” Mehta said. And he cited Navarro’s Harvard doctorate degree to point out “he knows better.”

Mehta also noted that Navarro had experience with congressional subpoenas before he received the Jan. 6 panel subpoena in February 2021. And three months earlier, the Justice Department had charged another recalcitrant witness with contempt despite assertions of executive privilege — Trump ally Steve Bannon.

During the hearing, Woodward called the sentencing proceeding a “pit stop” on the way to the appeals process, previewing an argument that Navarro was obligated to assert executive privilege whether Trump said anything or not.

Navarro’s attorneys had argued for six months of probation and a $100 fine on each count. They said Navarro was put in a bind with the executive privilege claim.

Navarro was one of a handful of witnesses who refused to testify to the panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and among the few the House voted to hold in contempt and refer for prosecution. Of those, the Biden administration chose to pursue charges against Navarro and Bannon.

Before the trial, Mehta delayed the proceedings for more than six months while both sides wrestled over how to handle Navarro’s claims of executive privilege at trial. Mehta ultimately ruled that Navarro could not raise those claims at trial.

In the only other recent prosecution for contempt of Congress, Bannon received a four-month prison sentence on similar charges. Bannon has appealed that conviction on executive privilege issues and other grounds. The appeal is still pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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