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Ex-Trump aide Peter Navarro sentenced to four months in jail for contempt of Congress

A federal judge in Washington DC has sentenced former Trump White House aide Peter Navarro to four months in jail and fined $9,500 for wilfully defying a subpoena issued by the House January 6 select committee in 2021.

Navarro is the second ex-Trump administration aide to receive a custodial sentence after being convicted of contempt of Congress. Former president Donald Trump’s onetime chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, was sentenced to four months in jail last year but is appealing his sentence.

Navarro, who a jury convicted on two counts of contempt of Congress in September, is expected to appeal his own sentence as well, though if Mr Trump returns to the White House after this year’s presidential election he is expected to pardon both of his former aides.

If Mr Trump does not become president and pardon them, and if their respective appeals are lost, either could become the first federal defendant to enter a correctional facility for contempt of Congress in more than fifty years, though the sentences both have received are far lighter than the year behind bars which is the maximum sentence possible for contempt convictions.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a six-month sentence for Navarro, the same amount of time that had been requested for Bannon, with whom the ex-Trump aide worked on a plan to overturn Mr Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden in the weeks before a riotous mob of Mr Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol in hopes of preventing certification of the election results by Congress.

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors had urged Judge Amit Mehta to impose the custodial sentence, citing the seriousness of the congressional inquiry.

“The committee was investigating an attack on the very foundations of our democracy. There could be no more serious investigation undertaken by Congress,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb Jr said.

He asked the judge to use the sentence to make it known that no one can be permitted to ignore Congressional investigations.

“The defendant believes he is above the law. But no one is above the law, we are a nation of laws. And the rule of law is essential to a functioning democracy,” he added.

Navarro’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, said Navarro “should not be punished to prove a point”.

Mr Woodward added that his client “did what he did because he thought he had a duty to invoke executive privilege”.

As he prepared to hand down the sentence, Judge Mehta said the penalty imposed on Navarro should reflect both “respect for the law” and “general deterrence,” and noted that the January 6 committee’s subpoena which Navarro ignored was part of a “significant effort ... to get to the bottom of a terrible day in American history.”

Judge Mehta, who said Navarro was owed “a debt of gratitude” by the US for his work during the Covid-19 pandemic, said that the case against him was nonetheless “serious” and was similar to Bannon’s case, but he conceded that as a White House official, Navarro’s claim to be following executive privilege in defying the subpoenas had “more credibility” than Bannon’s.

“I believe you thought you had a duty to invoke ... privilege. I take you at your word that this is what you were supposed to do.. But it’s not a legal defense,” he said, adding that the January 6 panel’s failure to ask Mr Trump about the privilege claim was a “mitigating factor” in Navarro’s favour.

At the same time, he pointed out that Navarro never said whether Mr Trump specifically told him to invoke the privilege even as he claimed to have had a conversation with the ex-president on the subject.

He also slammed the ex-Trump aide’s complaint of being a victim of a “two-tiered system of justice,” noting that Navarro was assisted by four “extremely completely” attorneys who did “an outstanding job” at his defence.

Judge Mehta also referenced comments Navarro made in his own defence earlier in the hearing, in which Navarro had claimed ignorance as to what to do when presented with a subpoena, citing his duty to preserve executive privilege versus the need to honour the compulsory process.

He noted that Navarro was a prolific speaker in media appearances, yet refused to honour the subpoena, telling him: “You’re more than happy to talk to the press about what you did.. but not go up to the Hill to talk to Congress”.

He said he had a hard time believing that Navarro did not know how subpoenas work or the consequences of defying them, since Bannon was indicted two months prior to Navarro being subpoenaed by the January 6 panel.

“You didn’t learn that lesson,” he said, adding that Navarro was “not a victim” and “not the object of a political prosecution”.

As he addressed media outside of the courthouse, Navrro was constantly interrupted by protesters blowing whistles and waving placards reading: “Lock him up.”

With additional reporting by agencies