Former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro rejected a plea offer from the Justice Department, prosecutors said in court on Friday.
The deal would have allowed Navarro to plead guilty to one of two contempt of Congress charges for not cooperating with the House’s ongoing January 6 investigation. Navarro would also be required to comply with the House select committee’s subpoena “to the satisfaction of the Justice Department,” prosecutors said, and would cap Navarro’s potential jail sentence at 30 days.
“No one in his position has ever been prosecuted with criminal contempt of Congress” for following a “presidential directive,” John Rowley, Navarro’s defense lawyer, said of rejecting the plea offer. Navarro has said he can’t comply with the subpoena because former President Donald Trump informed him he was shielded by executive privilege.
“In essence, this is a dispute between the Office of the President and Congress, and Mr. Navarro was placed on the horn of the dilemma,” Rowley told reporters outside the courthouse, “either to follow the executive direction or risk prosecution.”
Navarro is charged with contempt of Congress after failing to appear for testimony or turn over documents in the House select committee’s investigation. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, Navarro faces one year in prison for each of the two counts against him.
Navarro’s team also raised that he was put in “leg irons” the day of his arrest and that he was arrested at the airport, even though his apartment is just a short walk from the FBI headquarters. (After Friday’s hearing, Navarro clarified that the leg irons were used at the courthouse that day, not by the FBI). When Navarro’s lawyers raised the issue at the hearing, US District Judge Amit Mehta said, “It is curious to me why the government treated Mr. Navarro’s arrest in the way that it did.”
His case is the second contempt charge brought by the Justice Department for refusing to cooperate with the House probe, with Trump adviser Steve Bannon set to go to trial on similar charges next week.
Bannon, like Navarro, has tried to argue that the executive privilege surrounding the presidency shields him from being prosecuted for defying a subpoena. But a federal judge sided with the Justice Department in ruling recently that Bannon could not present most aspects of that argument to the jury when his case goes to trial next week. Bannon’s judge concluded that, under appeals court precedent that will also cover Navarro’s case, that argument was largely irrelevant to what the government has to prove for a conviction, making that evidence inadmissible for trial.
Though Navarro has a different judge presiding over his case, he could face similar hurdles to presenting arguments about executive privilege to a jury. Furthermore, the House January 6 committee has also noted that while Navarro still worked for Trump’s White House at the time of the riot, he has already publicly written about many of the topics the committee wanted to discuss in detail in his book.
Lawyers for Navarro also said in court on Friday that his criminal case amounts to “selective prosecution,” citing the Justice Department’s decision not to indict Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to then-President Donald Trump, and Dan Scavino, former deputy chief of staff to Trump. Both Meadows and Scavino also defied aspects of subpoenas from the House select committee, and were found in contempt by the committee.