Peter Navarro, a onetime adviser to former President Trump, was sentenced Thursday to four months in prison for refusing to comply with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Navarro was convicted in September on two counts of contempt of Congress — one for failing to produce documents related to the probe and another for skipping his deposition.
Prosecutors argued Thursday that Navarro showed “utter disregard” for the House committee’s probe and “utter contempt for the rule of law.” They asked the judge to impose a six-month prison term.
“The committee was investigating an attack on the very foundation of our democracy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb said. “There could be no more serious investigation undertaken by Congress.”
The same sentence was recommended for Steve Bannon, a former White House adviser who was also convicted on two counts of contempt of Congress last year.
A federal judge sentenced Bannon to four months in prison, the same term Navarro received. However, he has not yet served that time because the judge said he could remain free pending appeal. In November, Bannon’s attorney argued before a federal appeals court that he should not have to serve jail time because he was merely following legal advice.
Peter Navarro speaks to reporters as he arrives at the E. Barrett Pettyman United States Court House in Washington, D.C., to be sentenced for contempt of Congress on Thursday, January 25, 2024. (Allison Robbert)
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said he would decide whether Navarro’s sentence will be deferred after his counsel submits its arguments in writing. The ex-Trump adviser was also ordered to pay a $9,500 fine.
The Justice Department also forcefully denied that the prosecution was influenced by politics — something Navarro has suggested in court filings and public remarks. Mehta chided Navarro and his counsel Thursday for blaming politics.
“It’s unfortunate that the statements mislead. They mislead,” Mehta said. “Nancy Pelosi is not responsible for this prosecution; Joe Biden isn’t responsible for the prosecution. It’s those kinds of statements from someone who knows better … that contributes to why our politics are so divisive.”
“Punishing Dr. Navarro won’t fix or change that,” Navarro attorney Stanley Woodward later said of the political climate.
Like at trial, Navarro’s counsel argued Thursday that the ex-Trump adviser believed he should not comply with the House committee’s subpoena due to executive privilege.
“When I received that congressional subpoena … I had an honest belief that the privilege had been invoked,” Navarro told Mehta in brief remarks, made against his counsel’s advice.
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Navarro’s lawyers previously claimed in court filings that his defense was “hamstrung” by the “open question” of whether a president can direct his subordinates not to testify before Congress.
Mehta barred defense attorneys from using executive privilege as a defense, after finding that the Trump adviser’s counsel failed to prove Trump invoked said privilege. Navarro’s lawyers and government prosecutors tiptoed around the issue during his September trial.
The judge said Thursday he believed Navarro’s assertion that he thought he had a duty to invoke executive privilege, calling it a mitigating factor in his sentencing determination. But the judge also said he does not view that assertion as a legal defense.
After his conviction last year, Navarro told reporters he expects his case to reach the Supreme Court due to the questions it raises about executive privilege for high-ranking White House staff.
Woodward said Thursday that the district court is “but a pitstop in our journey to understand executive privilege,” reaffirming their intention to appeal. Navarro filed a notice of appeal before leaving the courthouse.
“I am willing to go to prison to settle this issue,” Navarro said in September.
After the sentencing, Navarro attempted to make remarks and answer reporters’ questions outside the courthouse, but a small group of protesters blowing a whistle and banging a cowbell largely drowned out his comments, at times appearing to fluster him.
At least one protester has previously appeared at hearings involving Navarro, making attempts to muffle his remarks.
Navarro asked for a new trial after claiming his jury was prejudiced by protesters during a short break outside, but Mehta denied the request earlier this month.
Updated 1:46 p.m.