WASHINGTON ― The House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 committee on Monday recommended that the chamber refer criminal contempt charges for two more aides to former President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the committee, said Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino played key roles in the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and needed to provide information to the committee. “We have learned that President Trump and his team were warned, in advance and repeatedly, that the efforts they undertook to overturn the 2020 election would violate the law and our Constitution,” she said. “They were warned that Jan. 6 could and likely would turn violent.”
Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said the two men had an obligation to testify. “They have refused to do so, and that’s a crime,” he said.
The committee voted unanimously to pass along its recommendation to the full House that Navarro and Scavino be held in contempt of Congress and be referred for criminal prosecution.
Navarro was Trump’s top trade adviser, but in the weeks following the 2020 election, he took a leading role in spreading lies about the election having been “stolen” from Trump, via a number of media interviews and the publication on his website of a three-part report that repeated debunked claims of fraud.
Scavino was Trump’s social media director and spent the weeks after the election amplifying Trump’s lies on his Twitter and Facebook accounts, building up anger in his followers that culminated in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Scavino was present with Trump much of that day, and was likely a key player in the inflammatory posts Trump sent out, including one that accused his own vice president of lacking the courage to overturn the election for him.
Navarro claimed he did not have to testify because of “executive privilege,” and told the committee to take it up with Trump and his lawyers. He continued to refuse to appear for a deposition even after the White House Counsel’s office told him that President Joe Biden had decided not to assert executive privilege for Navarro.
“He has publicly acknowledged playing a role in devising a post-election strategy to change the outcome of the election and promoting claims of election fraud intended to further that strategy,” Thompson wrote in the contempt report. “These actions were outside his official governmental duties at the time.”
“Federal law did not allow Mr. Navarro to use his official office to attempt to affect the outcome of an election,” Thompson wrote. “When Mr. Navarro engaged in these activities, and other activities described below, he was acting outside the scope of his official duties.”
The committee similarly has been seeking documents and a deposition from Scavino, Trump’s onetime golf caddy, since September. Two months were lost while Scavino claimed that a subpoena served on him at Trump’s social club in Florida was not valid. The attempts to get Scavino to testify continued even after the Supreme Court in February ruled against Trump’s “privilege” claim by refusing to block the committee from receiving his White House papers from the National Archives.
“Despite all these extensions, to date, Mr. Scavino has not produced a single document, nor has he appeared for testimony,” Thompson wrote. “Mr. Scavino spoke with Mr. Trump multiple times by phone on January 6th, and was present with Mr. Trump during the period when Americans inside the Capitol building and across the country were urgently calling on Mr. Trump for help to halt the violence at the Capitol, but Mr. Trump failed to immediately take actions to stop it.”
Cheney said Americans would soon hear from Trump White House officials who had done the right thing and spoke to the committee about what happened, and she invoked the war in Ukraine to underscore what Trump tried to do here.
“As we meet here tonight, Vladimir Putin continues his brutality against Ukraine, killing innocents, reminding us of what happens when authoritarians rule,” Cheney said. “And each day, we see footage of the unyielding courage of the Ukrainian people who are fighting and dying to defend their freedom. Their bravery reminds us that democracy is fragile. Democracy only survives if citizens are willing to defend it.”
The committee has previously referred three Trump associates for contempt charges to the full House, which approved referrals for two of them: Steve Bannon, a former top White House aide who with Navarro was trying to overturn the election on Jan. 6, and Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff who was involved in various elements of his boss’ attempt to remain in office despite losing the election.
Bannon was indicted by the Justice Department and is awaiting trial, while the Meadows referral is still pending.
The committee also voted to recommend a contempt referral for Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who was helping Trump try to overturn his loss by falsely claiming that the department had found evidence of voter fraud. But Clark subsequently honored his subpoena by showing up for a deposition, although he reportedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself more than a hundred times.
A criminal contempt charge cannot force someone to testify, but it does make that decision more costly, with added legal fees and time lost to court appearances. If it results in a conviction, it can lead to as much as a year behind bars.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first U.S. president in more than two centuries of elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ― his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five people, including one police officer. That day’s violence also injured another 140 officers and led to four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for president again in 2024.