A federal jury in Washington began deliberating Thursday in the criminal trial of Peter Navarro, a top aide to President Donald J. Trump, charged with contempt of Congress after ignoring a subpoena last year from the House Chamber investigating the events of January 6. attack.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors and defense attorneys broadly agreed on the facts of the case: Mr. Navarro balked when ordered to cooperate with the panel. But the question was whether the act amounted to a deliberate defiance of Congress or a simple misunderstanding between Mr. Navarro and committee staff.
“The defendant, Peter Navarro, made a choice,” said prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi. “He didn’t want to comply and produce documents, and he didn’t want to testify, so he didn’t.”
Detailing House committee correspondence with Mr. Navarro, Ms. Aloi said that even after the panel asked Mr. Navarro to explain any objections he had to testifying under oath, he continued to make statements. ‘obstruction.
“The defendant chose allegiance to President Trump over compliance with the subpoena,” she said. “It’s contempt. It’s a crime.
Stanley Woodward Jr., Mr. Navarro’s attorney, countered that the government simply failed to demonstrate that Mr. Navarro’s decision not to comply was anything other than an “inadvertence, an accident or an error”.
If Mr. Navarro were to be found guilty of the two counts of contempt of Congress with which he is charged, he could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 on each count.
Conjuring up images of violence and chaos on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors also pointed to the role Mr. Navarro’s behavior after the 2020 election may have played in drawing dozens of rioters to Washington that day. to disrupt congressional certification of the results.
It raised Mr Woodward’s hackles, repeatedly telling the jury that the government was relying on emotional descriptions of January 6 to tarnish Mr Navarro’s image, rather than proving he ever intended to blow up lawmakers.
“This case is not about what happened on January 6,” Mr. Woodward said. “What happened on January 6 was heinous. »
As the Jan. 6 committee sought to interview senior White House officials last year, Mr. Navarro and Stephen K. Bannon, a former strategist and adviser to Mr. Trump, stood out for their baseless statements about the Election fraud, staffers who had worked on the committee said in testimony Wednesday.
In particular, Mr. Navarro and Mr. Bannon had collaborated on a strategy, known as the Green Bay Sweep, intended to encourage Congress to reject election results in key states that had been called for Joseph R. Biden Jr. .
“It has become clear to investigative staff members that efforts to nullify the 2020 election directly fueled the unrest on Capitol Hill,” testified Marc Harris, a senior investigative attorney.
But even though other members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle cooperated, to some degree, with the committee, Mr. Navarro and Mr. Bannon blatantly ignored his requests.
Both men claimed their decision was based on the fact that Mr. Trump had invoked executive privilege to prevent them from testifying. But after both were charged with contempt of Congress, federal judges ruled that those allegations, for different reasons, did not constitute a valid defense in court.
In Mr. Navarro’s case, Judge Amit P. Mehta said he never gathered convincing evidence that Mr. Trump had personally asked him to ignore the subpoena. In a pre-trial hearing, Judge Mehta also said that even though the former president had clearly asserted this privilege, the commission was not seeking to question Mr. Navarro about his private conversations with Mr. Trump, which would be traditionally protected.
As a result, Judge Mehta told jurors on Thursday that any mention of executive privilege during the trial could not be considered a defense for Mr. Navarro’s conduct.
“Even if he thought he had an excuse, it doesn’t matter,” Ms Aloi said moments later. “He had to comply with the subpoena no matter what and assert all his privileges as directed by Congress.”