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Former Trump Aide Navarro Is Indicted for Defying Subpoena

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(Bloomberg) -- Former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro was indicted for defying a subpoena by the congressional committee investigating the Capitol riot, giving the panel added legal muscle as it probes the post-election acts of Donald Trump and his allies.

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Navarro accused the government of misconduct during an initial court appearance Friday and told a judge his arrest was mishandled, saying federal agents waited until he boarded a plane before putting him in handcuffs and taking him into custody, even though he had earlier offered to assist the government.

He was released without bail with his next court appearance scheduled for June 17.

Navarro “is charged with one contempt count involving his refusal to appear for a deposition and another involving his refusal to produce documents, despite a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol,” the Justice Department said in a statement Friday.

The indictment is another signal that the department is set on bringing charges against those who were within Trump’s inner circle and comes just days before the committee is scheduled to begin nationally televised hearings.

But Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff, and Dan Scavino, Trump’s deputy chief of staff, won’t be charged for refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee, the New York Times reported Friday, citing a letter from Matthew M. Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to Douglas N. Letter, the general counsel of the House.

Both Meadows and Scavino -- who were deeply involved in the effort to overturn the 2020 election -- engaged in weeks of negotiations with the committee’s lawyers, and Meadows turned over more than 9,000 documents to the panel, before the House voted to charge them with contempt, the Times noted.

By contrast, Navarro and Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who has also been charged with contempt, fought the committee’s subpoenas from the outset and never entered into negotiations.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in US district court in Washington contesting the validity of the House subpoena, Navarro asserted that the nine-member panel isn’t properly authorized or constituted and therefore that its legislative acts, including the subpoena he defied, are invalid.

“This was a preemptive strike by the prosecution against that lawsuit and it flies in the face of good faith and due process,” Navarro said in court Friday.

Navarro has also been served with a federal grand jury subpoena, which he called the “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

Read More: Navarro Says He’s Been Subpoenaed by Jan. 6 Grand Jury

Contempt of Congress

The Democratic-controlled House voted on April 6 to hold Navarro and former White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas seeking testimony and documents sought by the committee. The panel is investigating Republican efforts to stop the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote in favor of Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, which led to an attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The contempt charges were referred to the Justice Department. The House previously sent contempt citations to the department against former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former adviser Steve Bannon for defying subpoenas. Bannon was indicted in November.

Taken together, the contempt referrals have posed a major test for Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has pledged to defend the rule of law while trying to keep the Justice Department independent and insulated from politics.

QuickTake: What the Jan. 6 Committee Has Done, and What’s Next

The practical impact of Navarro’s indictment isn’t yet clear. It comes as the committee is now deciding how to respond to resistance from five House Republicans who also have been subpoenaed to testify -- including GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The panel has given at least one of the lawmakers, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, until next week to comply. But the panel has not been explicit on what it might do if he continues his defiance beyond that deadline.

Navarro has said he shouldn’t have been held in contempt because he might have a right, or even a duty, to withhold information based on a claim of executive privilege, which shields most communications with a president. Biden has rejected assertions that former Trump aides and advisers have any such legal shield.

The Jan. 6 panel said Navarro publicly discussed some of the information the committee is seeking from him, including that he and Bannon worked on a plan to coordinate with lawmakers on a process to stop the certification of Biden’s victory.

Navarro said in a March statement that the committee’s “witch hunt is predicated on the ridiculous legal premise that Joe Biden can waive Donald Trump’s executive privilege.” He predicted that the Supreme Court “will say otherwise when the time comes -- as it surely must.”

The Justice Department hasn’t yet taken any public action yet against Meadows.

Meadows’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a message asking for the status of that case.

(Updates with Meadows not being charged in sixth paragraph)

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