As his trial on congressional contempt charges was underway on Sept. 5 in Washington, former Trump aide Peter Navarro said the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn’t want to offer him a plea bargain.
“Let’s let the process play out here,” Mr. Navarro told The Epoch Times in a brief, exclusive interview outside the courtroom.
He added that the DOJ isn’t interested in offering him a plea deal.
His comments came as the jury selection process began unfolding on the first day of the former White House trade adviser’s trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress.
By the end of the business day, 14 jurors had been selected for the trial. Presumably, 12 of the jurors will hear the case and the remaining two will be alternates.
Mr. Navarro was indicted for contempt of Congress in June 2022 for failing to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 Select Committee that existed during the life of the previous Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. He pled not guilty to the charges.
The committee was investigating the security breach at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which delayed congressional certification of the 2020 presidential election by a few hours. The panel reportedly wanted to ask Mr. Navarro about a “Green Bay Swamp” plan that he detailed in a book he wrote after leaving the Trump administration. The plan called for delaying Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the election.
The charges were referred to the U.S. Department of Justice following a series of party-line votes in the then Democrat-run House. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland decided to formally institute the charges that are now working their way through the federal court system.
Critics have denounced the congressional committee as one-sided and politically-motivated. The committee subpoenaed a litany of former President Donald Trump’s former White House aides, including Mr. Navarro and former strategist Steve Bannon.
A federal jury found Mr. Bannon guilty in July 2022 of one contempt count based on his refusal to appear for a deposition and another count related to his refusal to produce documents subpoenaed by the committee. He was sentenced to four months of incarceration and ordered to pay a $6,500 fine.
Like others in the former president’s orbit, Mr. Navarro failed to comply with the subpoena, arguing that his communications with the former president and his staff were covered by executive privilege, which a president can invoke to shield official documents.
At an Aug. 28 hearing, Mr. Navarro told federal Judge Amit Mehta that President Trump had made it “very clear” in a three-minute telephone call after the subpoena was issued that Mr. Navarro should not testify before the committee. Mr. Navarro also said he provided the committee with this message.
Mr. Navarro said President Trump repeated his request in a meeting that took place in April 2022. “There was no question that privilege had been invoked from the get-go,” he said.
Mr. Navarro presented a letter written by a Trump attorney after the indictment that claimed the former aide was obligated to assert executive privilege, but the former president himself has not submitted evidence of the assertion of privilege in the Navarro proceeding.
Judge Mehta, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, reportedly said a three-pronged test applies to claims of executive privilege.
First, it must be invoked by the president or someone authorized by him. Second, it must be made after the president or his representative has personally considered the matter. Third, it cannot be asserted by means of what the judge called “mere acquiescence” or a “blanket assertion of privilege.”
The judge ruled that Mr. Navarro would not be able to tell the jury that the executive privilege claim was behind his decision not to comply with the subpoena.
Judge Mehta questioned why Mr. Navarro could not explain precisely what the former president said during the call.
“I still don’t know what the president said,” the judge said. He added that the evidence backing the claims was “pretty weak sauce.”
Prosecutors said at the Sept. 5 hearing that they intended to call several witnesses.
One of them was David Buckley. A person with that name was staff director of the Jan. 6 committee and a former inspector general of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Ballotpedia.
The defense said it would call a number of witnesses, including FBI special agent Walter Giardina, who arrested Mr. Navarro.
Earlier in the proceeding, Mr. Navarro was representing himself. He is now represented by attorney Stanley Woodward of Brand Woodward Law in Washington.
The potential jurors were asked a series of questions in court.
They were asked what they had heard about the case and if they had said anything about it on social media. They were asked if they had any reservations or concerns about avoiding media during the trial, especially online content about the case.
They were asked if they had family members or someone close to them subpoenaed by Congress and if their family or close friends work for or have done business before Congress. They were asked if they had opinions about Mr. Navarro or President Trump. They were asked if they would hold it against Mr. Navarro if he chose not to testify at his trial.
They were also asked if they had read anything about the Jan. 6 committee and if anyone close to them had worked in the legal profession.
The trial, which Judge Mehta said would last until this Friday, Sept. 8, is expected to resume Wednesday.
Joseph Lord contributed to this article.
This article by Matthew Vadum and Jackson Richman appeared Sept. 5, 2023, in The Epoch Times.