Prosecutors on Wednesday slammed Peter Navarro for ignoring a subpoena from the House’s Jan. 6 committee, saying the Donald Trump loyalist—who was once the point man on the “Big Lie”—had no right to act “like he was above the law.”
Navarro was pummeled repeatedly in opening statements, with John Crabb Jr., a federal prosecutor in Washington, telling jurors the case against Navarro is simple: He was ordered to hand over documents and testify in a deposition but refused—something Navarro admits to doing himself.
Crabb insisted that Navarro’s arrogance deserves to be punished with a conviction on a pair of contempt of Congress charges—crimes that could land the 74-year-old behind bars for up to two years and force him to pay up to $200,000 in fines.
“This case is just about a guy who didn’t show up for his testimony,” Crabb said. “Yes, this case is that simple. But this case is also that important—we are a nation of laws, and Mr. Navarro acted like he was above the law.”
Navarro’s defense wasn’t so fiery in return. His attorney painted him as a professional policy adviser who simply got caught up in legal trouble at the wrong time, stuck between following his boss’ orders and obeying a subpoena. They didn’t mention Navarro’s vehement efforts to spread election fraud nonsense and to draw up last-ditch efforts to delay election certification after Trump’s defeat in 2020—efforts Navarro detailed himself in a book.
Navarro, who was a trade adviser to Trump, has long claimed he didn’t have to comply with the House subpoena because Trump instructed him not to. He claimed Trump told him he was protected by executive privilege—one of the former president’s favorite things to wrongly proclaim.
Navarro insisted last week that he and others were only following Trump’s orders when refusing to testify, insisting that he should not face criminal prosecution for being loyal to the president. He insisted to reporters that “there is not a single White House adviser who hasn't asserted executive privilege.”
That argument was shut down in court, however. Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled last week that Navarro had no evidence of ever speaking to Trump about the subpoena, and therefore couldn’t use executive privilege as a defense.
With that defense eliminated, Navarro’s attorney Stan Woodward got creative in his arguments on Wednesday. He claimed that Navarro, after receiving the subpoena, had referred the House committee to Trump directly to confirm if he was protected under executive privilege, but members of Congress never followed up to tell Navarro if he was covered. Had they followed up, Woodward claimed, Navarro would have testified.
“You will also hear and learn that the Select Committee didn't [confer with Trump],” Woodward said. “The Select Committee didn't contact former President Donald Trump.”
Crabb argued that Navarro would have still needed to show up to the deposition if he wanted to argue he was protected by executive privilege and explain why he was protected on a question-by-question basis. Navarro would also have been required to hand over a document log explaining the legal basis for why each record should be withheld from Congress, Crabb said. Navarro did none of that.
“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.”
With most facts not being in dispute, experts don’t expect Navarro’s trial to last long. If convicted, he could face a sentence similar to that of Steve Bannon, another key associate of Trump, who was sentenced to four months in prison after he was convicted of defying a subpoena from the same committee.