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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House votes to hold two Trump aides in contempt in Jan. 6 inquiry

A pro-Trump rally organized by Women for America First in Washington on Dec. 12, 2020, a month before a mob of his supporters rioted inside the Capitol in Washington.

By Luke Broadwater

The House earlier this week voted to recommend criminal contempt of Congress charges against Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, two close allies of former President Donald Trump, after the pair defied subpoenas from the special committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The mostly party-line vote of 220-203 referred contempt charges to the Justice Department, calling for prosecutions of Navarro, a former top White House adviser, and Scavino, a former deputy chief of staff. It came as congressional investigators have grown increasingly frustrated with some of Trump’s staunchest supporters who have refused to meet with the panel or turn over a single page of evidence to the committee as it digs into the worst assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812.

“We have two people who are flagrantly, brazenly defying the authority of the House of Representatives of the United States,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the committee. He said the men had “nothing but excuses for their noncompliance — excuses you would not accept from a teenage child.”

Only two Republicans, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both members of the investigative committee, voted for the charges. The rest of their party refused to support the move.

Dozens of Republicans lined up on the floor of the House on Wednesday to demand a change of topic, trying to force a vote on immigration legislation in line with their efforts to use problems at the border as a political weapon against Democrats before midterm congressional elections.

After that failed, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the minority leader, attacked the investigation in a floor speech as a “political show trial” and accused the panel of bullying the men and trampling on their civil rights.

“Let me be clear: The riot on Jan. 6 was wrong. But make no mistake: the Democrats’ response is also wrong,” McCarthy said, adding, “Democrats are using the power of the federal government to jail their political opponents.”

The Jan. 6 committee laid out its arguments against Navarro and Scavino in a 34-page report that detailed how closely they were involved in efforts to keep Trump in power even after he lost decisively at the polls.

Navarro and Scavino are among a handful of Trump’s closest allies who have refused to sit for interviews or turn over documents, even as more than 800 witnesses — including other top White House officials — have complied with the committee’s requests.

In the past week, the panel has interviewed Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter, and her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom were high-ranking White House advisers to Trump. Each sat for lengthy interviews with the committee. Neither asserted executive privilege to avoid answering the committee’s questions.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the committee, contrasted their approach to the hard-line stance adopted by Scavino and Navarro.

“The president’s own daughter complied with the wishes of the committee,” Thompson said. “If his daughter complied with the wishes of the committee, everyone else should.”

The committee said Navarro had worked with Steve Bannon, another Trump ally, to carry out a plan to delay Congress’ certification of the election Jan. 6, 2021, and ultimately to try to change the election’s outcome. Navarro has previously described this plan as the “Green Bay Sweep” and has said more than 100 members of Congress had signed onto it.

Navarro also wrote a report alleging a stolen election, which was widely shared with others working to overturn the election. Navarro claimed that Trump “himself had distributed Volume 1 of the report to every member of the House and Senate” before Jan. 6.

The committee issued a subpoena in February to Navarro, but he said he would not comply, citing Trump’s invocation of executive privilege over White House materials from his time in office.

In a statement Wednesday, Navarro insisted that the committee should have negotiated the matter with Trump, saying that “it is not my privilege to waive.”

“Instead, the committee has colluded with the Biden White House in a futile effort to strip Donald Trump of executive privilege so it can coerce me into cooperating with their witch hunt,” he said. “This dog of a witch hunt won’t hunt at the Supreme Court, and I look forward to arguing the case there.”

As for Scavino, the committee said he had worked with Trump to spread false information via social media regarding election fraud and had recruited a crowd to Washington on Jan. 6.

The committee said it had “reason to believe” Scavino, whose subpoena was served at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s property in Palm Beach, Florida, was with Trump on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 in 2021 when plans were discussed to “challenge, disrupt or impede the official congressional proceedings.” He also was with Trump while people trapped inside the Capitol were urgently calling on the president to halt the violence.

The committee also said it “has reason to believe that Mr. Scavino may have had advance warning about the potential for violence on Jan. 6,” because he was known to monitor pro-Trump websites where plans to commit violence were discussed.

The committee has sought Scavino’s testimony since September, when it issued him a subpoena. The panel said it delayed Scavino’s deposition six times to try to accommodate him.

Scavino sued Verizon in January — at first, anonymously — seeking to stop the company from turning over his phone records to the committee.

His lawyers have argued that President Joe Biden — who waived executive privilege for both men — does not have the authority to do so over the testimony of a former president’s senior aides.

So far, Bannon is the only target of the committee who has been indicted on contempt of Congress charges for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

Bannon, whose trial is tentatively set for July, was dealt a legal blow Wednesday when a judge ruled he could not defend himself by saying he was merely following the advice of his lawyers when he declined to respond to the committee’s subpoena.

In December, the House recommended that Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, face criminal contempt of Congress charges for his refusal to sit for an interview with the committee. The Justice Department has not yet decided whether to pursue criminal charges against Meadows, who turned over thousands of documents to the committee before he stopped cooperating.

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