By Andrew Goudsward and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro was found guilty on Thursday of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House of Representatives committee that investigated the 2021 attack on the Capitol.
A 12-member jury convicted Navarro on two counts of contempt after he refused to testify or turn over documents to the Democratic-led House panel that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021 riot by Trump supporters and broader attempts by Trump, a Republican, to reverse his 2020 election defeat.
Navarro, a hawk on China policy who advised Trump on trade issues during his presidency and also served on the COVID-19 task force, became the second close associate of Trump to be convicted for spurning the committee. Steve Bannon was found guilty last year of contempt of Congress for similarly defying a subpoena and was sentenced to four months in prison. Bannon is now appealing the conviction.
Navarro said ahead of his trial that he did not have to comply with the subpoena because Trump had invoked executive privilege, a legal doctrine that shields some executive branch records and communications from disclosure.
But U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Navarro could not use this as a defense, finding that the defendant had not presented evidence that Trump formally invoked executive privilege in response to the subpoena. Defense lawyer Stanley Woodward was left to argue that Navarro’s failure to comply may have been an accident or a mistake.
Navarro, wearing a dark suit and red tie, showed no visible reaction when the verdict was read aloud following about five hours of jury deliberations. His lawyer said he would appeal.
“The day that Judge Mehta ruled that I could not use executive privilege as the defense in this case, the die was cast,” Navarro told reporters outside the courthouse.
The charges carry a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail. Sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 12.
Navarro said he did not call Trump as a witness because the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination was “fighting four different indictments in three different jurisdictions. We chose not to go there.”
The verdict in federal court in Washington followed a trial with just one day of testimony from three prosecution witnesses, former staff members of the House committee. The defense did not call any witnesses or present any evidence.
“The defendant chose allegiance to former President Trump over compliance with the subpoena,” federal prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi told the jurors during closing arguments earlier on Thursday. “That is contempt. That is a crime.”
‘NOT OVER BY A LONG SHOT’
Navarro’s lawyers sought a mistrial following the verdict, claiming jurors were allowed outside the courthouse for a break and encountered protesters angry over the Capitol riot. Mehta declined to rule on the request without additional information about what had transpired.
Navarro lawyer John Rowley told reporters the case posed important legal issues that would need to be decided on appeal.
“This case is not over by a long shot,” Rowley said.
The verdict represented a victory for the Justice Department and the now-defunct select committee, which moved aggressively to secure testimony from Trump advisers before being disbanded when Republicans took control of the House in January.
Many of the committee’s findings were mirrored in a federal indictment obtained by Special Counsel Jack Smith accusing Trump of attempting to subvert the election results.
The panel sought to interview Navarro about a plan devised by him and other Trump allies, dubbed the “Green Bay Sweep,” to delay Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. The committee concluded its work last year without interviewing Navarro.
Navarro had said publicly that he was protecting the presidency by not sharing information with Congress.
Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on the day that Congress met to certify Biden’s victory, attacking police and sending lawmakers and others fleeing for safety. Trump has made false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)