Former top White House aide Donald Trump has made a desperate bid to stop his contempt trial. He told a federal court on Monday that Trump had “directed” him not to obey the House select committee’s decision of January 6, 2017.
Peter Navarro is set to be tried on Sept. 5, 2018 for criminal contempt of court charges after refusing to obey a committee subpoena.
Navarro, however, has argued Trump invoked executive privilege in order to avoid having to comply with the committee’s request for documents and testimony. If Amit Mehta concurs, he could dismiss the charges.
Navarro, who was called to the witness stand on Monday, described his communications with Trump’s aides and the panel that issued the subpoenas: the one from Jan. 6, and the other from a different congressional committee looking into the coronavirus epidemic.
Navarro claimed that Trump informed him that he invoked executive privilige, a legal doctrine which allows the president withhold confidential communications from other branches of the government. Stanley Woodward, Navarro’s lawyer, asked Navarro if he attended a select committee deposition on Jan. 6.
“I was told by the President not to,” Navarro responded.
Mehta will likely decide whether he believes Navarro when he describes his conversation with Trump. This description was not accompanied by any documentation or written confirmation, as has been the case for other privilege claims that Trump made.
John Crabb Jr. a prosecutor in charge of the case pressed this point when he questioned Navarro.
Woodward admitted that after the questioning they would have liked to receive a written statement from Trump that he invoked executive privilege in order to prevent the former trade advisor from appearing before the panel on Jan. 6.
The panel was interested in Navarro’s work with Steve Bannon, a Trump ally, on a plan for Congress members to raise numerous and long objections against Joe Biden’s electoral votes at the session of Congress that will take place on Jan. 6, 2021. Navarro indicated that Trump approved the strategy.
Navarro published other reports that discredited claims of widespread fraud during the 2020 elections. Trump cited one of these reports in a tweet dated Dec. 19, 2020 in which he encouraged supporters to descend upon Washington D.C. for his “stop theft” rally.
Mehta – an Obama appointee – pressed Woodward Monday on why the former president had not used any language invoking privilege.
Mehta added that he did not “inkling” Trump’s words.
Woodward responded, “It’s not important.”
Mehta stated, “It must matter.”
Woodward quoted Justin Clark’s grand jury testimony on Monday. Clark was the deputy campaign manager of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, and he also advised Trump after his election. Clark’s grand juries testimony will be used as evidence in Navarro’s upcoming trial.
Woodward reports that Clark testified he did not think Navarro required a written declaration of executive privilege, as he already had a direct line to Trump.
Navarro testified also about a conversation he claimed he had in April 2022 with Trump in his Mar-a-Lago Club after lawmakers voted against Navarro. According to Navarro’s testimony, Trump had second thoughts regarding his decision to prevent Navarro from testingifying.
Navarro said that there was “no doubt” that privilege had been invoked from the beginning. “None.”
Mehta was unimpressed with Navarro’s account of the Mar-a-Lago gathering.
He said, “That seems like a pretty weak sauce to me.”
Woodward said that Trump’s intention, not his exact words, was what dictated invoking the privilege. He also said that allowing Navarro’s criminal prosecution because he did not have a quote directly from Trump was a disservice done to the doctrine on separation of powers.
Mehta questioned the prosecution as well. Mehta asked Crabb, who pointed out there was no proof that Trump had seen the subpoena Navarro got on Jan. 6, whether he needed to see the document in order to invoke privilege.
Crabb responded that Trump would not have needed to see the document. He added that it would not be appropriate to invoke executive privilege because he believed the congressional investigation was a witch-hunt.
This argument did not seem convincing to the judge. He said that executive privilege protects candid conversations between presidents, and their advisors. It shields them from embarrassment. Mehta said it was inappropriate to question the motives of a former president when deciding on how executive privilege works.
He said: “It does not become invalid just because the President thinks that this is a witch-hunt.”
Crabb said, however, that former presidents should use their reasoning when they invoke executive privilege. He stated that the president had to have knowledge of what was being sought, and not only the fact his political opponents were looking for it.
He said, “We don’t think it’s right that the President can just invoke executive privilege at will.”
Mehta stated that he would think about the issue and make a decision at the pre-trial on Wednesday. If Navarro’s case goes to trial, he may face two years of prison if convicted.