How Peter Navarro ended up in prison

How Peter Navarro ended up in prison

Peter Navarro, a former White House trade adviser, made history Tuesday by becoming the first senior Trump aide to serve time in prison for actions related to the efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Navarro was convicted last year on two counts of contempt of Congress: one for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and another for skipping his deposition.

He fought to avoid prison in a series of court battles but ultimately failed to make his case convincingly and was left with no choice but to report to prison in Miami.

Here are the moments and events that chronicle Navarro’s path to today:

Navarro in the Trump administration

Navarro’s time in the White House, which lasted from April 2017 until then-President Trump left office, was centered on pursuing a hawkish foreign trade agenda focused on enacting protectionist policies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his focus shifted somewhat as Trump tapped him to manage the use of the Defense Production Act on needed supplies.

Navarro clashed frequently with Anthony Fauci, a top public health official at the time, over the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 and about other related issues.

After Trump lost his reelection bid in 2020, Navarro made public assertions of election fraud. Navarro described the election as one of “immaculate deception” that November.

“We are moving forward here at the White House under the assumption that there will be a second Trump term,” he said at the time.

Navarro called on then-Vice President Mike Pence to take actions beyond the scope of his ceremonial duties on Jan. 6, to overturn the election for Trump, advocating the false theory that he could call into question slates of electors from various states.

Jan. 6 select committee subpoenas Navarro

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack issued a subpoena for Navarro in early February 2022, demanding he produce documents and appear for a deposition.

The subpoena pointed to passages from Navarro’s own book, published in November 2021, that the committee said suggest Navarro was involved in plans to delay certification of the presidential election.

“You, then a White House trade advisor, reportedly worked with Steve Bannon and others to develop and implement a plan to delay Congress’s certification of, and ultimately change the outcome of, the November 2020 election,” the committee wrote in its subpoena. “In your book you reportedly described this plan as the ‘Green Bay Sweep’ and stated that it was designed as ‘the last best chance to snatch a stolen election from the Democrats’ jaws of deceit.’”

Navarro responded in a statement saying Trump had invoked executive privilege.

“As the domestic terrorists running the January 6 partisan witch hunt are well aware, President Trump has invoked Executive Privilege; and it is not my privilege to waive. They should negotiate any waiver of the privilege with the president and his attorneys directly, not through me,” he said in a statement at the time.

Biden administration denies executive privilege claim

In March 2022, deputy White House counsel Jonathan Su informed Navarro in a letter that President Biden would not assert executive privilege to shield him from complying with the congressional subpoena, saying Biden believes an assertion of executive privilege is “not in the national interest” given the “unique and extraordinary nature of the matters under investigation.”

Navarro responded to Su in an email, saying it was “fanciful and dangerous to assert that a sitting president can revoke the Executive Privilege of his predecessor.”

“You and the Biden regime along with partisan judges and the witch hunt otherwise known as the Jan 6 committee are doing great violence to the Constitution and the country,” Navarro wrote in the message. “See you at the Supreme Court.”

House holds Navarro in contempt

The House voted in April 2022 to hold Navarro in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena. The vote also referred the charges to the Justice Department.

Lawmakers voted almost entirely along party lines, 220-203.

The vote followed the Jan. 6 committee’s vote to advance the contempt resolution to the full House. Then-Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), the only two Republicans serving on the committee, were also the only members of their party to back the resolution.

A federal grand jury indicted Navarro in early June 2022 on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying the subpoenas.

Navarro in court accused the Justice Department of “prosecutorial misconduct” for arresting him at an airport on his way to Nashville for a television appearance. He also argued the committee lacked the authority to subpoena him.

“That committee is a sham committee that doesn’t have the power to issue subpoenas,” he told a federal magistrate judge. “They’ve basically weaponized their investigatory powers in a way which violates separation of powers.”

Later that June, Navarro pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Judge rejects request to investigate contempt charges

In September 2022, a federal judge rejected Navarro’s request to investigate the charges against him, as he claimed the prosecution was politically motivated and sought documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Navarro argued he was selectively prosecuted and that the DOJ decision to charge him was “tainted with ‘unlawful political interference,’” pointing to its decision not to prosecute former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino for similar actions.

District Judge Amit Mehta rejected Navarro’s claims, noting that Meadows’s and Scavino’s cases were materially different.

Meadows and Scavino were both expressly directed by Trump not to comply with subpoenas from the Jan. 6 committee and had “extensive” communications with the committee on the issue, with Meadows turning over thousands of text messages, the judge said.

Navarro did not receive any specific request from Trump and “made no apparent effort to accommodate” the panel, communicating with the committee “over a three-week period largely through terse emails and public statements,” Mehta said.

Judge rules trial can proceed; Navarro convicted

Mehta ruled during a pretrial hearing in late August 2023 that Navarro failed to prove Trump invoked the executive privilege that Navarro says prevented him from testifying before the Jan. 6 committee. The ruling cleared the way for his trial to proceed as planned the following week.

Navarro was found guilty of contempt of Congress following a jury deliberation that lasted nearly five hours in early September 2023. The sentencing was set for January.

After his conviction, Navarro told reporters he was convicted because of “association with J6,” not for contempt of Congress, the charges lodged against him.

“You saw the opening argument of John Crabb, the attorney for the prosecution — he didn’t argue the case on contempt. He said that I was responsible for the J6 insurrection, which is totally, totally without fact,” Navarro said.

He also told reporters that he expects his case to reach the Supreme Court because of the questions it raises about executive privilege for high-ranking White House staff.

“I am willing to go to prison to settle this issue. I’m willing to do that. But I also know that the likelihood of me going to prison is relatively small, because we are right on this issue,” Navarro said.

Judge denies request for new trial

In January of this year, Mehta ruled that Navarro would not be granted a new trial because he did not prove that the jury was prejudiced by Jan. 6-related protesters during a brief outdoor break shortly before they issued a verdict.

Mehta also determined that Navarro’s counsel knew about the jury’s potential exposure to protesters before its verdict was issued but waited to see if the jury would rule in their favor before raising concern. Because of that, they waived it as grounds for a new trial, he wrote.

“A defendant cannot learn of alleged improper external influence on the jury, remain silent and gamble on a favorable verdict, only to complain afterwards that a new trial is warranted because the jury was unduly prejudiced by that outside influence,” Mehta wrote. “That is precisely what occurred here.”

Navarro sentenced to four months in prison

In late January, Navarro was sentenced to four months in prison — the same sentence as recommended for Steve Bannon, a former White House adviser who was also convicted on two counts of contempt of Congress last year.

Prosecutors argued 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.”

In early February, Mehta denied Navarro’s bid to stay out of prison while he appeals his conviction.

On March 11, Navarro was ordered to report to a Miami prison to begin his sentence.

His lawyers, in another effort to avoid prison time, argued in a court filing March 9 that a federal appeals court should temporarily put his sentence on hold while he appeals his conviction.

On March 14, a federal appeals court denied Navarro’s bid to stay out of prison while appealing his conviction.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit largely affirmed the trial judge’s ruling last month that Navarro’s appeal does not raise a “substantial question of law” and therefore doesn’t warrant his release.

The federal appeals court also found that for Navarro’s arguments on executive privilege to raise substantial questions, it would have required Trump to have invoked said privilege — which the court said “did not happen here.”

“Even if executive privilege were available to appellant, it would not excuse his complete noncompliance with the subpoena,” the appeals court wrote in a two-page order. “Appellant makes no claim of absolute testimonial immunity, nor could he.”

“A properly asserted claim of executive privilege would not have relieved him of the obligation to produce unprivileged documents and appear for his deposition to testify on unprivileged matter,” the court order continued.

Navarro files emergency appeal with Supreme Court

Navarro filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court on March 15.

His attorneys argued he should be allowed to remain free while he pursues his appeal as he poses no public safety or flight risk. They also said he stands to raise important issues before the court.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, a senior presidential advisor has been convicted of contempt of congress after asserting executive privilege over a congressional subpoena,” Navarro’s attorneys wrote.

“Dr. Navarro has appealed and will raise a number of issues on appeal that he contends are likely to result in the reversal of his conviction, or a new trial. Chief among them are whether an ‘affirmative’ invocation of executive privilege was required to preclude a prosecution for contempt of congress; what was required of former President Trump for a ‘proper’ invocation of privilege.”

Justice Roberts rejects emergency appeal

Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday shot down Navarro’s last-ditch bid to remain free, locking in March 19 as the day he would report to prison.

Roberts said Monday that he will not pause Navarro’s four-month prison sentence as his appeal moves forward.

“This application concerns only the question of whether the applicant, Peter Navarro, has met his burden to establish his entitlement to relief under the Bail Reform Act,” Roberts wrote, citing an appeals court’s determination that Navarro “forfeited” any argument challenging the district court’s conclusion that executive privilege was not invoked by Trump.

“I see no basis to disagree with the determination that Navarro forfeited those arguments in the release proceeding, which is distinct from his pending appeal on the merits.”

Roberts received Navarro’s bid to avoid prison because Roberts handles emergency matters arising from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Though just one paragraph, it was the first time in a decade Roberts has published an “in-chambers” opinion, a written explanation for his ruling on a case he didn’t refer to the full court for consideration.

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