Ex-Trump advisor Peter Navarro falls 'well short' of prying open records in his contempt of Congress case, judge says

·4 min read
Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro speaks to members of the press outside the West Wing of the White House June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. Navarro spoke on former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new book “The Room Where It Happened.”
Peter Navarro is set to stand trial beginning November 16 on charges he defied the House January 6 committee.Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • A judge said Peter Navarro's arguments fell "well short of prying open" government records.

  • Navarro argued that documents could show political animus motivated his criminal prosecution.

  • Judge Amit Mehta noted that Trump never directed Navarro in connection with the January 6 panel.

Former Trump White House advisor Peter Navarro suffered a setback Monday ahead of his November trial on contempt of Congress charges, as a federal judge rejected his bid to pursue government records that he claimed would show political influence behind his criminal prosecution.

In a 13-page opinion, Judge Amit Mehta forcefully denied Navarro's request to seek records to prove that political animus motivated his prosecution on charges he defied the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Navarro had argued that he was facing a selective prosecution, but Mehta — an Obama appointee confirmed in 2014 — on Monday said the evidence raised by the former White House trade advisor "falls well short of prying open the door to discovery."

A grand jury indicted Navarro in early June on a pair of contempt of Congress charges stemming from his defiance of a subpoena from the House January 6 committee. The following month, a jury in Washington, DC, found former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon guilty on similar charges linked to his refusal to sit for questioning or turn over records to the House panel investigating the Capitol attack and the former president's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

In both cases, charges resulted from a House referral recommending that the Justice Department bring criminal charges.

In his quest for government records, Navarro pointed to the Justice Department's decision to not pursue charges against two other Trump advisors whom the House referred for prosecution: former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and his onetime deputy Dan Scavino.

Navarro said he could think of "no other reason" for his different treatment than "unlawful and discriminatory reasons involving his public expression of political beliefs." But in his opinion Monday, Mehta pointed to key differences between Navarro's dealings with the House committee and those of Meadows and Scavino.

Meadows and Scavino, for instance, each received letters from Trump lawyer Justin Clark directing them to not respond to subpoenas from the House January 6 committee.

Navarro, "on the other hand, received no written or oral direction from the former President to invoke any privileges or immunities with respect to the Select Committee subpoena," Mehta wrote.

"The fact that Defendant received no specific instruction to invoke executive privilege, while Meadows and Scavino did, is a material difference and a legitimate prosecutorial factor that distinguishes [Navarro] from those men," the judge added. "Such factual distinctions matter."

Mehta noted that Meadows and Scavino also engaged, through their lawyers, in extensive negotiations with the House January 6 panel. While he never ultimately sat for questioning, Meadows turned over more than 2,000 text messages and a privilege log showing he withheld an additional 1,000 text messages based on various asserted privileges.

"These interactions with the Select Committee stand in contrast to those of Defendant, who communicated with the Select Committee over a three-week period largely through terse emails and public statements," Mehta wrote. "He made no apparent effort to accommodate the Select Committee, let alone produce records as Meadows did. Instead, Defendant directed the Select Committee to negotiate directly with President Trump."

Navarro also argued that he was denied an opportunity to turn himself in and was instead arrested by the FBI at an airport as he was departing for a speaking engagement in Tennessee. Mehta acknowledged that law enforcement officials at times allow those charged with non-violent misdemeanor crimes to turn themselves in.

But with Navarro, he said, the Justice Department provided "at least a plausible explanation for why it took a different course."

Only a few days before his indictment, Navarro initially refused to open his door to FBI agents attempting to interview and serve him with a subpoena, according to a court filing. Navarro later told them to "get the f*** out of here," according to a court filing.

Navarro's trial is set to begin on November 16 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

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