A White House adviser to President Donald Trump acted as if he were “above the law” when he refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, prosecutors argued Wednesday as his trial got underway.
Peter Navarro, charged with two counts of contempt of Congress, didn’t ignore the House Jan. 6 Committee, instead telling members to contact Trump about what might be protected by executive privilege, Navarro’s attorney said. A judge has found the privilege argument alone isn’t a defense against the charges because Navarro couldn’t show evidence that Trump had invoked it.
Navarro, a senior trade adviser, was subpoenaed in February 2022 by the House panel investigating how and why a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and interrupted the certification of the presidential vote for Joe Biden. Navarro had promoted Trump’s baseless claims of mass voter fraud, and the committee thought he might have more information about any connection those claims had to the attack, prosecutor John Crabb said.
But Navarro didn’t hand over any emails, reports or notes. When the date came for him to testify before the committee, he didn’t show up, Crabb said. Even if the president had invoked executive privilege, Navarro should have come before the committee, answered what questions he could and cited privilege when he couldn’t answer, he said.
“It wasn’t voluntary. It wasn’t an invitation. A subpoena is a legal requirement,” Crabb said. “We are a nation of laws and our system doesn’t work if people believe they are above the law.”
Defense attorney Stanley Woodward told the jury that Navarro did get in touch with committee staffers, but asked them to talk to Trump to see what information the president intended to be protected by executive privilege. That never happened, he said.
“The evidence in this case will not show that Dr. Navarro was willful in his failure to comply,” Woodward said. He pushed back on efforts to link Navarro closely with the Jan. 6 attack and said the prosecution’s opening arguments were like a movie trailer that promises more than the show delivers: “It’s like one of those movies where you get nothing after the preview,” he said.
Navarro, a former economics professor, faces up to a year behind bars if convicted. He is the second Trump aide to face criminal charges after refusing to cooperate with the House committee. White House adviser Steve Bannon also made an executive privilege argument but was convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress and sentenced to four months behind bars. He has been free while he appeals the verdict.