Peter Navarro
CNN  — 

The Justice Department sued former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Wednesday, seeking to force Navarro to turn over emails from a private account that he used while working at the Trump White House.

According to the lawsuit, the National Archives learned of Navarro’s private account from the House committee investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which obtained messages from the previously unknown email address.

Between 200 and 250 of the emails on Navarro’s private account should have been given to the National Archives, prosecutors say.

Navarro, however, did not copy these messages to his official government email account, according to prosecutors, and when the archivist attempted to contact Navarro in order to secure these records, Navarro did not respond.

The lawsuit is a bold and unusual enforcement move by the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch – which pursues civil, not criminal, matters – to strike at alleged sloppy federal records maintenance during the Trump administration.

Public records advocates have long taken issue with lost, never-created or deleted records, but the Justice Department has rarely sued former administration officials over the Presidential Records Act.

“Mr. Navarro has refused to return any Presidential records that he retained absent a grant of immunity for the act of returning such documents,” the lawsuit says, adding that Navarro “is wrongfully retaining Presidential records that are the property of the United States, and which constitute part of the permanent historical record of the prior administration.”

The lawsuit says that Justice Department officials attempted to negotiate with Navarro and his legal team to get a copy of the emails, but Navarro refused unless he was given “a grant of immunity” in exchange. It is not clear what Navarro wanted immunity from.

The former trade adviser is facing separate contempt of Congress charges after failing to comply with a subpoena by the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021. In July, Navarro rejected a plea offer, claiming that former President Donald Trump told him he was covered by executive privilege.

Navarro’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.