A federal grand jury has indicted former Trump adviser Peter Navarro on contempt of Congress charges after he repeatedly ghosted the House committee investigating the Capitol riot—all while blabbing on TV and in a memoir about his involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Navarro was taken into custody on Friday morning by FBI agents from the bureau’s Washington field office, The Daily Beast confirmed, after an indictment alleged he refused to comply “in any way” with a subpoena issued by the committee in February.
His appearance in federal court on Friday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui was anything but normal, seeming more like a heated TV appearance than the typical muted hearing. Navarro, who already knew he was under investigation by the Justice Department, said he specifically asked an FBI agent who visited him at his apartment in D.C. on Wednesday to contact him if they planned to arrest him. Instead, he fumed, an FBI team caught up with him just as he was boarding a plane at the airport on his way to Nashville for a TV hit.
“I actually live right next to the FBI. It’s like a 100-yard walk to my door. What did they do instead of that? They let me get all the way to the airport, try to board the plane, come at me, put me in handcuffs, not let me use my phone, take me down, and put me in a jail cell,” he told the judge. “Who are these people? This is not America. I was with distinguished public servants for four years. Nobody ever questioned my ethics.”
Navarro, who told the judge he would be representing himself, is the second Trump loyalist to be charged for refusing to engage with the committee after Steve Bannon was federally indicted last November. In fact, two of the same prosecutors going after Bannon—Amanda Rose Vaughn and Molly Gulland Gaston—are working on the case against Navarro.
His arrest appeared to spell trouble for Trump’s social-media guru Dan Scavino, who was held in contempt by House lawmakers at the same time as Navarro. A source confirmed to The Daily Beast on Friday that Scavino still has not complied with his subpoena.
But The New York Times, citing people familiar with the matter, reported late Friday that the Justice Department had decided not to charge Scavino or former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, whom the House had voted to hold in contempt for defying a subpoena.
The Justice Department announced Friday that Navarro was charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to appear for a deposition, and another count for refusing to produce documents. The 72-year-old former White House trade adviser faces up to a year in prison for that criminal misdemeanor charge.
Navarro had claimed he ignored the subpoenas and skipped a scheduled deposition on March 2 because he was bound by executive privilege asserted by his former boss, then-President Trump.
But the indictment notes that the committee emailed Navarro after he failed to appear to say there are “topics, including those discussed in the [subpoena’s cover letter], that the Select Committee believes it can discuss with you without raising any executive privilege concerns at all. In any event, you must appear to assert any executive privilege objections on a question-by-question basis during the deposition.”
Navarro replied the next day, again insisting the privilege was “not mine to waive.” He said it was up to the committee to “directly negotiate” with Trump and his lawyers on the matter.
Much of the information the committee wanted to probe was information Navarro had already discussed publicly either in his book or in countless media appearances. For example, he bragged to The Daily Beast last year that he and Bannon were behind the “Green Bay Sweep” plan, a last-ditch effort to keep overturn Joe Biden’s victory and keep Trump in power.
But Navarro nevertheless dug in. In a statement to The Daily Beast after the House committee held him in contempt in March, he fumed that it was “an unprecedented partisan assault on executive privilege,” and claimed he’d be happy to testify if Trump waived executive privilege.
He stepped it up again this week, filing a lawsuit against a Department of Justice grand jury subpoena and running to MSNBC to claim his case had become a referendum on the constitutionality of executive privilege and separation of power. “This is why I’m fighting. This is why I’m willing to go to jail for this,” he said.
“You’re waging this legal battle not to talk to the committee, not to talk potentially to DOJ,” host Ari Melber told him. “So you’re risking going potentially to jail not to talk to them, but you’re out here talking in public.”
But most, if not all, of the claims in Navarro’s lawsuit have already been tossed aside by the Supreme Court in a critical lawsuit brought by his former boss. When facing the prospect of a thorough investigation by the House committee, who were seeking his old White House records, Trump sued the committee, claiming he could keep administration documents private by citing some kind of leftover executive privilege. But a federal judge firmly rejected the idea that Trump could override his successor’s decision to make government documents public, noting that Trump is neither a king nor the current president. An appellate panel—which included Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has since become the newest member of the Supreme Court—shot down Trump’s argument too. And the Supreme Court ultimately said the committee could get the documents it sought.
But that didn’t stop Navarro from claiming in court on Friday that the criminal prosecution against him should be paused so that his civil lawsuit can make its way through the courts.
“This was a preemptive strike by the prosecution against that lawsuit. And it simply flies in the face of good faith and due process,” he told the judge. “That committee is a sham committee that doesn’t have the power to issue subpoenas… they basically weaponized their investigatory powers in a way that violated separation of powers.”
Although Navarro was assigned a government-paid defense attorney—Ubong E. Akpan—for his criminal case, he said in court that he would continue to represent himself in some capacity.
“I don’t want to spend my retirement savings on lawyers,” he said.
The judge told Navarro he would take seriously his allegations of misbehavior by prosecutors and law enforcement agents, but he repeatedly reminded the boisterous former Trump White House official that he was under oath in court—and his assertions could be used against him at a future trial.
Federal prosecutors told the judge that the case involved just a few hundred pages of records, giving the impression that it’s relatively simple. But their similar stance in the Bannon case has shown that not to be the case, as Trump loyalists have flexed their ability to grind down the Justice Department with procedural tactics and big questions about constitutional rights.
Navarro was released from custody and ordered to restrict his travel and stay in touch with the court.
“This is not frustration. This is disappointment in our Republic,” he grumbled at the hearing’s end.
He is expected back in court later this month for an arraignment before Judge Amit Mehta, who is intimately familiar with the democracy-threatening tension of the final days of the Trump administration, given that he oversees several criminal cases of insurrectionists and has already issued scathing rulings against Trump for his role in inciting violence on Jan. 6, 2021.
Navarro did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Friday.
—with additional reporting by Zachary Petrizzo