WASHINGTON - Former Trump White House official Peter Navarro was indicted Friday on charges that he refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but the Justice Department spared two other advisers, including the ex-president's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, from criminal prosecution.
The department's decision to not prosecute Meadows and Dan Scavino, another adviser to former President Donald Trump, was revealed in a letter sent Friday by a federal prosecutor to a lawyer for the House of Representatives. The move was reported hours after the indictment of Navarro and a subsequent, fiery court appearance in which he vowed to contest the contempt of Congress charges.
The flurry of activity comes just days before the House committee leading the investigation into the riot at the Capitol holds a primetime hearing aimed at presenting the American public with evidence it has collected about how the assault unfolded. It shows how the Justice Department has opted to evaluate on a case-by-case basis contempt referrals it has received from Congress rather than automatically opt for charges against each and every Trump aide who has resisted congressional subpoenas.
Though the Justice Department has referred multiple Trump aides for potential prosecution for refusal to cooperate, Navarro is only the second to face criminal charges, following the indictment last fall of former White House adviser Steve Bannon.
Navarro, 72, was charged with one contempt count for failing to appear for a deposition before the House committee and a second charge for failing to produce documents the committee requested.
During an initial court appearance Friday, Navarro alleged that the Justice Department had committed "prosecutorial misconduct" and said he was told he could not contact anyone after was approached by an FBI agent at the airport Friday and put in handcuffs. He said he was arrested while trying to board a flight to Nashville, Tennessee, for a television appearance.
"Who are these people? This is not America," Navarro said. "I was a distinguished public servant for four years!"
During the hearing, he said the House committee was a "sham committee" and said prosecutors were "playing hardball" and were "despicable." If convicted, each charge carries a minimum sentence of a month in jail and a maximum of a year behind bars.
The Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland have faced pressure to move more quickly to decide whether to prosecute other Trump aides who have similarly defied subpoenas from the House panel.
The New York Times first reported on the decision to not charge Meadows and Scavino. A person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to discuss it publicly confirmed it to The Associated Press on Friday.
The indictment alleges that Navarro, when summoned to appear before the committee for a deposition, refused to do so and instead told the panel that because Trump had invoked executive privilege, "my hands are tied."
After committee staff told him they believed there were topics he could discuss without raising any executive privilege concerns, Navarro again refused, directing the committee to negotiate directly with lawyers for Trump, according to the indictment. The committee went ahead with its scheduled deposition on March 2, but Navarro did not attend.
The indictment came days after Navarro revealed in a court filing that he also had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury this week as part of the Justice Department's sprawling probe into the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
"This was a preemptive strike by the prosecution against that lawsuit," Navarro told Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui during his court appearance. "It simply flies in the face of good faith and due process."
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows arrives in the East Room for an election night address by US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 4, 2020. - Meadows has tested positive for Covid-19, US media reported late
Navarro, who was a trade adviser to Trump, said he was served the subpoena by the FBI at his Washington, D.C., home last week. The subpoena was the first known instance of prosecutors seeking testimony from someone who worked in the Trump White House as they investigate the attack. Prosecutors said the indictment was handed down Thursday night.
Navarro made the case in his lawsuit Tuesday that the House select committee investigating the attack is unlawful and therefore a subpoena it issued to him in February is unenforceable under law.
He filed the suit against members of the committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the U.S. attorney in Washington, Matthew M. Graves, whose office is now handling the criminal case against him.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Navarro said the goal of his lawsuit is much broader than the subpoenas themselves, part of an effort to have "the Supreme Court address a number of issues that have come with the weaponization of Congress' investigatory powers" since Trump entered office.
Members of the select committee sought testimony from Navarro about his public efforts to help Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election, including a call trying to persuade state legislators to join their efforts.
The former economics professor was one of the White House staffers who promoted Trump's baseless claims of mass voter fraud. Trump, in turn, promoted a lengthy report Navarro released in December 2020, which Navarro falsely claimed contained evidence of the alleged misconduct and election fraud "more than sufficient" to swing victory to his former boss.
Members of the committee made their case at the time that Scavino and Navarro were among just a handful of people who had rebuffed the committee's requests and subpoenas for information.
Despite the opposition from several Trump allies, the Jan. 6 panel, comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans, has managed to interview more than 1,000 witnesses about the insurrection in the past 11 months and is now preparing for a series of public hearings to begin next week. Lawmakers on the panel hope the half-dozen hearings will be a high-profile airing of the causes and consequences of the domestic attack on the U.S. government.