WASHINGTON - Peter Navarro, a former top adviser to ex-President Donald Trump, was charged on Friday with contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
But two other close associates of the former president, Mark Meadows and Daniel Scavino, will not face criminal charges despite a House vote recommending them.
A federal grand jury charged Navarro with one count involving his refusal to appear for a deposition before the Jan. 6 Select Committee and another for his refusal to produce documents in response to a subpoena, the Justice Department said.
Navarro did not enter a plea at his 72-minute hearing before Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The former Trump adviser accused the Justice Department of "prosecutorial misconduct" for arresting him at a local airport as he tried to depart on a trip to Nashville and New York.
Navarro said authorities ignored his request for them to contact an attorney and refused to allow him to make a phone call during his arrest. "I am … disappointed in our republic," he told the judge. His next court appearance was set for June 17.
A longtime China hawk, Navarro advised Trump on trade issues and also served on his COVID-19 task force. He has contended previously that his communications are protected by executive privilege, a legal principle protecting a president's communications.
His indictment came a week before the committee is due on June 9 to hold the first in a series of public hearings on its investigation. And it came two days after Navarro filed a civil lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House committee.
Trump has urged associates not to cooperate with the Democratic-led investigation, calling it politically motivated.
In its subpoena, the committee said it had reason to believe that Navarro, 72, had information relevant to its investigation.
'GREEN BAY SWEEP'
Navarro has said in media interviews and in his book that he helped coordinate an effort - known as the "Green Bay Sweep" - to halt certification of Biden's victory and keep Trump in power.
Navarro faces up to a year in prison on each count, if convicted. He also faces fines but a court-appointed attorney disputed a Department of Justice assertion that he could be fined as much as $100,000 on each count, arguing instead that the maximum penalty should be $1,000.
Navarro argued at length for delaying the criminal proceedings and instead moving forward with his civil suit against the committee, arguing that the case against him stems from collusion between the Justice Department, Congress and the Biden White House.
"The prosecution has put me in an untenable position of conflicting constitutional interpretations," Navarro said. "This is something that needs to get to the Supreme Court."
Navarro is the second prominent Trump adviser to face criminal charges in the investigation.
Stephen Bannon, at one time the chief strategist for the former Republican president, was criminally charged in November for defying a subpoena.
The Democratic-controlled House recommended the contempt charges in April for Navarro and Scavino, a former deputy chief of staff to Trump. In December, the chamber voted in favor of a contempt charge for Meadows, a former House member who became Trump's chief of staff.
The New York Times reported late on Friday that the Justice Department has decided against charging Meadows and Scavino with contempt of Congress.
The leaders of the House committee said the indictment of Navarro was the correct decision but that they found the decision on Meadows and Scavino "puzzling."
"Mr. Meadows and Mr. Scavino unquestionably have relevant knowledge about President Trump’s role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the events of January 6th. We hope the Department provides greater clarity on this matter," Representatives Bennie Thompson, the committee's chairperson, and Liz Cheney, its vice chairperson, said in a statement.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia declined to comment.
The Select Committee has conducted more than 1,000 interviews, including many with former White House aides, as it investigates the assault by thousands of Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, as Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the November 2020 presidential election.
After Trump repeated his false claims at a raucous rally that his defeat was the result of fraud, mobs rampaged through the Capitol, injuring police officers and sending Pence, lawmakers, staff and journalists fleeing for safety.
Four people died on the day of the attack, and one Capitol Police officer who fought with rioters died the next day. Four officers have since taken their own lives.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell and William Mallard)