Peter Navarro, ex-Trump official, sentenced to 4 months in prison for contempt of

Washington Peter Navarro, a former trade official in the Trump White House, was sentenced to four months in prison on Thursday on two contempt of Congress charges stemming from his refusal to comply with a subpoena related to his actions after the 2020 election.

In 2022, Navarro defied a demand for records and testimony from the now-defunct House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. A federal jury in Washington, D.C., convicted Navarro after a short trial in September 2023.

Judge Amit Mehta, who imposed the sentence after a hearing in federal court in Washington, also fined Navarro $9,500. The sentence was less strict than the six months in prison and $600,000 fine that prosecutors had requested. He will not report directly to prison as his attorneys argue that he should be released as they pursue an appeal of his conviction.

Navarro briefly spoke during Thursday’s hearing, thanking his lawyers and the judge. 

“When I received that congressional subpoena … I had an honest belief that the [executive] privilege had been invoked,” he said, defying his attorneys’ advice that he not speak on his own behalf.

The Navarro subpoena

Peter Navarro arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25, 2024.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

In February 2022, congressional investigators were interested in Navarro’s efforts to formulate a plan to delay the certification of the 2020 presidential election results from his post in the Trump White House. The Jan. 6 committee issued a subpoena seeking records and testimony, with its chairman saying Navarro “appears to have information directly relevant to the Select Committee’s investigation.”

Navarro refused to comply, claiming former President Donald Trump had asserted executive privilege over the material sought by the committee. President Biden and the White House Counsel’s Office declined to invoke the privilege to shield Navarro from the congressional subpoena.

The House, controlled by Democrats, voted to hold him in contempt and referred the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution. The U.S. attorney in Washington then criminally charged him with two counts of contempt. 

Prosecutors alleged during the one-day trial last year that Navarro “acted like he was above the law” when he did not comply with the committee’s request. His attorneys unsuccessfully urged Mehta, the judge, to allow Navarro to argue that Trump instructed him to assert executive privilege and deny the congressional request.

In an evidentiary hearing on the executive privilege matter before trial, Navarro told Mehta it was “clear” Trump invoked the protection in a 2022 phone call. The judge, however, was unconvinced and barred that defense, saying there was no evidence that any official assertion was made. Navarro ultimately did not take the stand in his own defense.

Navarro’s defense attorneys have indicated they will appeal the conviction.

Navarro’s sentencing hearing  

Federal prosecutor John Crabb told Mehta during Thursday’s sentencing hearing that Navarro “thumbed his nose at the committee” and had “utter disregard” for its work. 

He pushed back on Navarro’s claims that the charges against him were politically motivated. “This prosecution is not the result of partisan politics. This is a righteous prosecution,” Crabb said. 

Navarro’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, pushed for leniency and said the central issue remained whether Navarro thought he was using privilege as a shield. 

“Dr. Navarro is the first former senior presidential advisor to be prosecuted. This case will be used as a roadmap for future investigations,” Woodward said. “He asserted executive privilege because he believed he was duty-bound.” 

The defense attorney said Navarro asked the House committee to resolve the issue of executive privilege with Trump before he would testify. 

During an at-times contentious exchange, Meha told Woodward that Navarro declined to retain legal counsel to guide him through the privilege claims when he received the subpoena, which the judge said likely resulted in the charges being brought against him. Mehta took issue with Navarro’s decision to make public comments and writings about the 2020 election while still refusing to comply. 

“I have a great deal of respect for your client and what he accomplished,” Mehta said, adding it was “disappointing how he behaved.”

“It’s unfortunate that the statements misled,” the judge opined. “It’s those kinds of statements from somebody who knows better … that contribute to why our politics are so corrosive. It is regrettable.” 

Mehta said Navarro “knows better” and noted he holds a doctorate from Harvard. Woodward countered that Navarro’s public statements have reinforced his client’s belief that he was protected by executive privilege. 

The judge ultimately said Thursday he took the defendant at his word and said it was likely Navarro was at least operating under the assumption that he was bound by privilege. But there was no concrete evidence, the judge said, that Trump officially instructed Navarro to do so.

Executive privilege, Mehta contended, is not “magical dust” or “a get-out-of-jail free card.” 

Navarro himself said he was “disappointed with a process where a jury convicted me and I am unable to raise a defense.” He said the lesson from the congressional and legal process was to get a lawyer once subpoenaed. 

“The minute that violence erupted on Capitol Hill was one of the worst moments of my life,” he said, referring to Jan. 6.

Navarro’s attorney also took issue with what prosecutors said was a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in prison. Woodward urged the court to reconsider its interpretation of a law that required the prison sentence, a request Mehta said he could not grant based on legal precedent and a federal statute.

“This case is far from over,” Woodward said. “These are complicated issues.”

“Dr. Navarro, I do think the country owes a debt of gratitude to you for your work with the coronavirus,” Mehta said, noting Navarro’s efforts to ramp up production of protective medical equipment. 

“This was a significant effort by Congress to get to the bottom of a terrible day in the country’s history,” the judge said. “The sentence ought to reflect that.” 

Lawmakers, Mehta said, “had a job to do and you made it harder. It is really that simple.”

“You want me to believe that this is a political prosecution, and yet at the same time you are accepting responsibility,” he continued. “Takes some chutzpah.” 

Navarro is the second Trump ally to be convicted for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee. Steve Bannon was found guilty in 2022 of the same two counts after he did not comply with a subpoena. He was sentenced to four months in prison, but a federal judge suspended the sentence to allow his appeal to move forward.

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