Former trade adviser to ex-President Donald Trump Peter Navarro and Trump’s onetime communications director, Dan Scavino, are about to find themselves held in contempt of Congress for their months-long refusal to comply with the Jan. 6 committee’s demands for records and deposition tied to Trump’s attempted overthrow of the 2020 election.
This was an expected outcome on Monday given that the House Rules Committee—the body tasked with reviewing the resolution before it goes to the full House for a vote—is majority Democrat. Though Monday’s conclusion was almost entirely forgone, what transpired was far from mere rudimentary procedure.
Instead, Jan. 6 committee investigators came out swinging, using the typically perfunctory venue as an opportunity to cut to ribbons many of the Republican talking points used to prop up dubious claims often invoked by Trump’s lackeys in court and before Congress.
Contempt Report Navarro Sca... by Daily Kos
At just over 450-odd days removed from the attack that left five dead and hundreds injured, committee chair Bennie Thompson and vicechair Liz Cheney have amassed huge amounts of information to anchor the probe.
From reams of text messages and emails to video footage and witness interviews and sworn statements scored from a sea of 800 people, compliance has been a regular feature from most of those subpoenaed, the committee leaders said Tuesday.
It has only been those closest to Trump who have worked overtime to avoid accountability. But a refusal to comply with a Jan. 6 committee subpoenas sits on shaky legal ground.
Subjects must appear, Thompson said. Once they appear, then they can invoke their Fifth Amendment right and refuse to speak. So is their right.
“But here’s the thing, if you want the protection of these privileges, you have to show up,” Thompson said.
Neither Navarro nor Scavino has invoked this right. Instead, Navarro bragged about crafting the scheme to overturn the election in his memoirs and dubs the committee a band of “domestic terrorists” to the press. He also continues to promote the falsehood that fraud took place in the 2020 election.
Scavino has been somewhat quieter than Navarro but no more cooperative. He actively sued the committee to stop a review of his phone records and tried to do so anonymously before a judge unmasked the attempt. That case is still pending.
Navarro argues testifying would violate Trump’s claim of executive privilege but Trump hasn’t invoked executive privilege over discussions with his ex-trade adviser. And more importantly, neither has sitting President Joe Biden.
Navarro has said he would testify if Trump waived the privilege. But Trump’s powers as a former president do not outweigh the powers of the incumbent, so the only thing barring Navarro from speaking up, or invoking his Fifth Amendment right, is Navarro. He could stop the contempt resolution tomorrow.
As for Scavino, Biden recently refused an attempt by the ex-Trump official to invoke executive privilege, siding with the committee’s position that Scavino’s efforts spreading Trump’s bogus claims of election fraud were not a part of his official duties and therefore not protected.
In sum, it was not Scavino’s job to convince the American public that Trump won an election he actually lost.
RELATED STORY: Navarro won’t talk to Jan. 6 probe but another Trump White House official will
During the proceedings Tuesday, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat with 25 years of experience as a civil lawyer who serves on the House Rules Committee, was exasperated.
Both Navarro and Scavino had an opportunity to discuss the subpoenas with their lawyers and Congress. They have had an opportunity to assert their rights, just as others have before them, Perlmutter said.
If there’s any question from Republicans or anyone else about whether committee targets have had due process, there shouldn’t be, Perlmutter said.
“They’ve had it. They have refused their right to appear. They have refused their right to be heard. Now they will have a criminal referral and have an opportunity in court, just like [Steve Bannon] did. He was indicted and now he will have his day in court,” Perlmutter said. “In my entire life, I never thought we would be talking about these kinds of things. This is so basic. The legal premises are so basic… the fact that we had a mob try to overthrow this place, in a million years, I never thought that would happen.”
RELATED STORY: Steve Bannon, crony extraordinaire to twice-impeached Trump, found in contempt of Congress
Indeed, Bannon is the only one so far to be indicted by the DOJ after a referral for criminal contempt of Congress, Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows cooperated for a time but abruptly backpedaled. He was held in contempt of Congress but the Justice Department has not indicted Meadows yet nor has it indicated its close to doing so.
Another contempt referral for former DOJ attorney Jeffrey Clark has also stagnated at the DOJ for the moment. Unlike Bannon, Clark invoked his Fifth Amendment right, a decision that may ultimately save him from an indictment though that decision will be exclusively left up to the DOJ.
Chairman Thompson spelled it out simply for his colleagues opposing the resolution.
“If Navarro and Scavino won’t comply with Congress, they will be beholden to a federal judge instead,” he said.
Arguing against the resolution Tuesday was onetime public defender Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican and ally to the former president.
Armstrong does not sit on the Jan. 6 committee but serves the Jan. 6 shadow committee, a team comprised exclusively of pro-Trump GOP legislators who were passed over for a seat on the formal probe.
RELATED STORY: A Jan. 6 shadow committee sets its sights on U.S. Capitol Police
Armstrong told Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, and Jan. 6 investigator that the contempt resolution was premature.
It was also unfair, he argued because the subpoenas to Navarro and Scavino demanded too much information in too short a time. Navarro was hit with the demand in mid-February. Scavino received his subpoena in September.
Republican Rules Committee members were still utterly unmoved when Cheney invoked a decision from a federal judge who recently found that if Trump’s plan to stop the certification of the election had worked, it would have “permanently ended the peaceful transfer of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution.”
Undeterred, Raskin laid out for the record an evisceration of popular argument from Armstrong and other GOPers who are opposed to the very existence of the probe.
Where the ubiquitous defense from Republicans has hinged on the belief that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi never gave the GOP a fair shot to join the committee, Raskin spelled it out Tuesday in an exchange with Thompson.
Before the House created the select committee, House Leader Kevin McCarthy called for an outside commission modeled after the 9/11 Commission. As such, it would feature zero members of congress and would be made up of former secretaries of state or defense.
Thompson agreed with McCarthy’s proposal, but when progressives in Congress balked that Democrats had the majority and therefore the committee should be Democratically controlled, Thompson said he pushed back.
He agreed to an original proposal from McCarthy that the committee be split between five Democrats and five Republicans with equal subpoena power.
“I wanted a balanced commission,” Thompson said. “Plus it was clear that when the insurrection of Jan. 6 occurred, they wanted to hurt anybody they got their hands on. Democrat. Republican. Whatever. I felt a calling beyond the partisanship.”
But when news of a deal emerged, Trump came out publicly against it and McCarthy did, too.
“It was a U-turn,” Rep Raskin said. “McCarthy opposed the commission he advocated for.
Raskin in that moment recalled how insurrectionists called for the murder of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi while others called to hang then Vice President Mike Pence.
“Those words are still ringing in my ears from that day,” Raskin said. “That was a bipartisan hit squad.”
The vote to advance the contempt report to the full House will be slated in the days ahead before it is kicked over to the Department of Justice.
For a full recap of today’s hearing, check out this thread here.