Navarro Is Sentenced to 4 Months in Prison for Stonewalling Congress

Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to former President Donald J. Trump who helped lay plans to keep Mr. Trump in office after the 2020 election, was sentenced on Thursday to four months in prison for defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Mr. Navarro, 74, was found guilty in September of two misdemeanor counts of criminal contempt of Congress, making him the second Trump aide to face penalties related to one of the chief investigations into the Capitol riot. The judge overseeing the case, Amit P. Mehta, had rejected Mr. Navarro’s primary defense: that Mr. Trump had personally directed him not to cooperate with the subpoena, and that he believed he was shielded by executive privilege.

“The words ‘executive privilege’ are not magical incantations,” Judge Mehta said in handing down the sentence after a tense two-and-a-half-hour hearing in which he repeatedly took issue with Mr. Navarro’s claim of executive privilege.

“It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.

In a testy exchange with Mr. Navarro’s lawyers beforehand, the judge singled out Mr. Navarro’s decision to flout the subpoena even as other aides to Mr. Trump negotiated whether to comply. “I have a great deal of respect for your client and what he’s achieved professionally, I do,” he said. “Which makes it all the more disappointing the way he behaved.”

Appearing taken aback by Judge Mehta’s responses to one of his lawyers Mr. Navarro at one point stood up to speak for himself, against what he said was his lawyers’ advice.

Recounting his thought process when he received the subpoena, Mr. Navarro said that he was torn about whether to cooperate and that he had hoped his case would become a blueprint for White House aides subpoenaed by Congress.

“All they have to do is read the transcript of you here today and they’ll know what to do, sir,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Mr. Navarro was also ordered to pay a $9,500 fine. He will stay out of jail for now, at least until Judge Mehta decides whether he can remain free while he appeals his conviction.

Outside Federal District Court in Washington, Mr. Navarro, surrounded by reporters and cameras on an unseasonably warm day, was immediately drowned out by hecklers blowing whistles and jostling with his lawyers for space behind him to brandish signs. 

Over the din, Mr. Navarro defiantly solicited donations for his legal defense, adding that he was “not expecting or hoping for” a pardon from Mr. Trump should he be re-elected to the presidency.

Mr. Navarro, a Harvard-trained economist and a vocal critic of China, served as a trade adviser to Mr. Trump before turning his focus to the pandemic response. After the 2020 election, however, he increasingly explored ways to subvert the outcome of the race and keep Mr. Trump in power.

Along with Stephen K. Bannon, a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, Mr. Navarro devised a plan known as the Green Bay Sweep. Under the strategy, they would try to delay certification of the election by persuading Republican lawmakers to repeatedly challenge the results in various swing states and apply pressure on former Vice President Mike Pence to discredit the outcome. He also cast doubt on the results of the race, compiling instances of purported irregularities and issuing a three-part report claiming election fraud as part of what he described as an “immaculate deception.”

For weeks, Mr. Navarro openly celebrated his strategizing, sharing details of the plan in his 2021 memoir and in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

Those efforts ultimately elicited the attention of the House committee, which sought documents and testimony from Mr. Navarro.

When the committee reached out to Mr. Navarro, he immediately replied by email, stating only “executive privilege” and never cooperating with the panel.

After voting to hold Mr. Navarro in contempt, the House referred the matter to the Justice Department, which obtained a grand jury indictment.

Judge Mehta noted the disconnect between Mr. Navarro’s public appearances and his response to Congress.

“You’re more than happy to talk to the press about what you did, write it in your book but not go up to the Hill and talk to Congress, which was investigating what happened and the causes of that day,” he said.

Mr. Navarro’s lawyers had asked for six months’ probation and a minimal fine. His dismissal of the House committee was essentially a misunderstanding, they contended, adding that Mr. Navarro had genuinely believed that Mr. Trump had invoked executive privilege.

In asking for a more lenient sentence, his lawyers said the case had hinged on murky and unsettled legal questions about executive privilege and the complex separation of powers between Congress and the White House — questions that Judge Mehta had struggled to untangle over months of litigation before the trial.

“We’re but a pit stop in our journey to understanding what executive privilege means and how it should be invoked,” Stanley Woodward Jr., a lawyer for Mr. Navarro, said on Thursday.

“This case is far from over,” he added.

Judge Mehta bristled at the suggestion, noting that others in Mr. Trump’s orbit had complied with the House committee’s subpoenas.

“Any lawyer worth his salt,” he replied angrily, would have advised Mr. Navarro “to engage with Congress and figure out what is covered and what isn’t covered.”

Judge Mehta also questioned Mr. Woodward’s assertion that Mr. Navarro had accepted responsibility for his actions and was merely trying to clarify the law surrounding executive privilege.

Judge Mehta cited fund-raising emails and news conferences outside the courtroom in which Mr. Navarro denounced the Jan. 6 committee as “domestic terrorists” and a “kangaroo court.”

“It’s those type of statements from someone who should know better that contributes to why our politics are so corrosive,” Judge Mehta said.

Mr. Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, was convicted on nearly identical contempt charges in 2022 and sentenced to four months in prison. He, too, remains free as his appeal moves forward.

Zach Montague is based in Washington. He covers breaking news and developments around the district.More about Zach Montague

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