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US prosecutors urge jurors to convict Trump ex-adviser Navarro for contempt of Congress

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors urged jurors on Wednesday to convict former President Donald Trump’s adviser Peter Navarro of criminal contempt, telling them that Navarro broke the law when he refused to testify or provide documents to a congressional committee investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Mr. Navarro ignored his subpoena,” federal prosecutor John Crabb told the 12-member panel during opening statements at Navarro’s criminal trial in federal court in Washington. “He acted as if he’s above the law, but he’s not above the law.”

Navarro, a hawk on China policy who advised Trump on trade issues and also served on the White House COVID-19 task force, was charged last year with two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena issued in February 2022 by the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol by Trump’s supporters.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which have the potential to a carry a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail.

The House committee wanted to interview Navarro about a plan that was devised by Trump allies to delay Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Navarro later detailed the plan, which was called the “Green Bay Sweep,” in a book he wrote after leaving the White House. The committee ultimately issued the findings from its investigation in December 2022 without getting the chance to interview Navarro.

“Congress believed that Mr. Navarro had information about what happened on Jan. 6, or more specifically about why it happened,” Crabb said. “So Congress issued Mr. Navarro a subpoena. It wasn’t voluntary. It wasn’t an invitation.”

Ahead of the trial, Navarro and his attorneys argued that he was unable to comply with the subpoena because Trump invoked executive privilege, a legal doctrine that shields some executive branch records and communications from disclosure.

However, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Navarro cannot use this as a defense after he was unable to prove that Trump did in fact invoke the privilege.

Prosecutors have said that Navarro was nevertheless required to show up to the deposition and invoke the privilege on a question by question basis. He also was required, they said, to hand over a document log explaining the legal basis for why each record should be withheld from Congress.

Stan Woodward, one of Navarro’s defense attorneys, told jurors in his opening statement that most of the evidence in the case was not in dispute. Woodward said Navarro’s failure to respond to the subpoena was not “willful” and promised jurors they would see evidence that Navarro told committee staffers they should reach out to Trump directly to hash out the details first over what the “contours of that privilege meant.”

“You will also hear and learn that the select committee didn’t do that,” Woodward said. “The select committee didn’t contact former President Donald Trump.”

Steve Bannon, another key associate of Trump, was convicted last year of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the same committee and sentenced to four months in prison.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)

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