WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Trump White House official Peter Navarro was indicted Friday on contempt charges after defying a subpoena from the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Navarro is former President Donald Trump's second aide to be charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6, 2021, investigation. His arrest comes months after the indictment of former White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Navarro, 72, was charged with one contempt count for failing to appear for a deposition before the House committee and a second charge for failing to produce documents the committee requested.
During an initial court appearance on Friday, Navarro alleged that the Justice Department had committed “prosecutorial misconduct” and said that he was told he could not contact anyone after was approached by an FBI agent at the airport on Friday and put in handcuffs. He said he was arrested while trying to board a flight to Nashville, Tennessee, for a television appearance.
“Who are these people? This is not America,” Navarro said. “I was a distinguished public servant for four years!”
During the hearing, he said the House committee was a “sham committee" and that prosecutors were “playing hardball” and were “despicable.” If convicted, each charge carries a minimum sentence of a month in jail and a maximum of a year behind bars.
The indictment underscores that the Justice Department is continuing to pursue criminal charges against Trump associates who have attempted to impede or stonewall the work of congressional investigators examining the most significant attack on U.S. democracy in decades.
The Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland have faced pressure to move more quickly to decide whether to prosecute other Trump aides who have similarly defied subpoenas from the House panel.
The indictment alleges that Navarro, when summoned to appear before the committee for a deposition, refused to do so and instead told the panel that because Trump had invoked executive privilege, “my hands are tied.”
After committee staff told him they believed there were topics he could discuss without raising any executive privilege concerns, Navarro again refused, directing the committee to negotiate directly with lawyers for Trump, according to the indictment. The committee went ahead with its scheduled deposition on March 2, but Navarro did not attend.
The indictment came days after Navarro revealed in a court filing that he also had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury this week as part of the Justice Department’s sprawling probe into the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“This was a preemtive strike by the prosecution against that lawsuit,” Navarro told Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui during his court appearance. “It simply flies in the face of good faith and due process.”
Navarro, who was a trade adviser to Trump, said he was served the subpoena by the FBI at his Washington, D.C., home last week. The subpoena was the first known instance of prosecutors seeking testimony from someone who worked in the Trump White House as they investigate the attack. Prosecutors said the indictment was handed down Thursday night.
Navarro made the case in his lawsuit Tuesday that the House select committee investigating the attack is unlawful and therefore a subpoena it issued to him in February is unenforceable under law.
He filed the suit against members of the committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the U.S. attorney in Washington, Matthew M. Graves, whose office is now handling the criminal case against him.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Navarro said the goal of his lawsuit is much broader than the subpoenas themselves, part of an effort to have “the Supreme Court address a number of issues that have come with the weaponization of Congress’ investigatory powers” since Trump entered office.
Members of the select committee sought testimony from Navarro about his public efforts to help Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election, including a call trying to persuade state legislators to join their efforts.
The former economics professor was one of the White House staffers who promoted Trump’s baseless claims of mass voter fraud. Trump, in turn, promoted a lengthy report Navarro released in December 2020, which Navarro falsely claimed contained evidence of the alleged misconduct and election fraud "more than sufficient" to swing victory to his former boss.
Navarro has refused to cooperate with the committee, and he and fellow Trump adviser Dan Scavino were found in contempt of Congress in April.
Members of the committee made their case at the time that Scavino and Navarro were among just a handful of people who had rebuffed the committee’s requests and subpoenas for information. The Justice Department has not yet moved forward with charges against Scavino or Meadows, who initially cooperated with the committee, turning over more than 2,000 text messages sent and received in the days leading up to and of the attack. But in December, Meadows ceased cooperation. Federal prosecutors have not yet indicated whether he too will be charged.
Despite the opposition from several Trump allies, the Jan. 6 panel, comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans, has managed to interview more than 1,000 witnesses about the insurrection in the past 11 months and is now preparing for a series of public hearings to begin next week. Lawmakers on the panel hope the half-dozen hearings will be a high-profile airing of the causes and consequences of the domestic attack on the U.S. government.