Former Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino have been held for contempt of Congress over their months-long refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The two men on Wednesday became the latest members of former President Donald Trump’s inner circle to face legal jeopardy as the special committee continues its more than nine-month investigation into the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years.
The factional vote of 220 to 203 will escalate the criminal references for Navarro and Scavino to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
The contempt action followed hours of heated debate in the House of Representatives, as Republicans backed Trump, accusing Democrats of trying to politicize his supporters’ attack on the Capitol.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accused the Jan. 6 committee of “criminalizing dissidents,” defended Scavino as a “good man,” and severely criticized committee members, some of whom were named. “Let’s face it, this is a political show trial,” McCarthy said.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, one of the nine members on the Jan. 6 panel, noted that the committee includes two Republicans, including Liz Cheney of Wyoming. He added that the purpose of the plenary vote is to clarify that “open contempt and mockery of this process and of the rule of law” will not be allowed by the chamber.
“I mean, it’s just amazing that they think they can get away with it,” the three-year lawmaker told reporters of Scavino and Navarro as the debate raged on Wednesday.
Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, also on the special committee, were the only Republicans who voted in favor of the contempt charges.
While the prosecution of contempt allegations may not provide new information for the Jan. 6 committee — any prosecution could drag on for months or years — Wednesday’s vote was the latest attempt to show that witnesses will face consequences if they don’t cooperate or at least appear to question. It’s all part of an effort to reclaim legislative authority that eroded during the Trump era, when subpoenas from Congress were often flouted and ignored.
“This vote will show us who is willing to show tolerance for the unbearable,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said on the floor, addressing his comments to Republicans across the aisle.
Raskin and other Democrats argued that Scavino and Navarro are among just a handful of people who have denied the committee’s requests and subpoenas for information. The panel has interviewed more than 800 witnesses so far.
In the last week alone, the committee has received two such interviews from Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. Your virtual testimonies come closest to the former president.
Panel members said Kushner’s testimony last Thursday was helpful. Ivanka Trump, who was at the White House with her father on Jan. 6, was questioned for eight hours on Tuesday as congressional investigators attempted to piece together her father’s failed efforts to delay confirmation of the 2020 election results.
The focus of the committee’s contact with the former first daughter is a phone call she allegedly witnessed from her father to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject Biden’s 2020 election victory as part of his ceremonial role in overseeing the election count . Pence rejected these efforts.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee chair, highlighted Ivanka Trump’s voluntary cooperation with the committee in contrast to Scavino and Navarro’s defiance. Raskin said Scavino “refused to testify before Congress what he knows of the most dangerous and sweeping attack on the United States Congress since the War of 1812.”
The committee says Scavino helped promote Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and was with him on the day of the Capitol attack. As a result, he may have “materials relevant to his video recordings and tweets” that day.
An attorney for Scavino did not respond to multiple messages from The Associated Press asking for comment.
Navarro, 72, a former White House trade adviser, was subpoenaed in early February for promoting false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which the committee believes contributed to the attack.
Citing executive privilege when he declined to testify, Navarro said the committee “should discuss this matter with President Trump.” He added, “If he relinquishes the privilege, I will happily follow him.”
But the Biden administration has already relinquished executive privileges with Navarro, Scavino and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying it was unjustified or in the national interest for them to withhold their testimony.
Executive privilege was designed to protect a president’s ability to obtain honest advice from his advisers without fear of immediate public disclosure, but it has limits. Courts have traditionally left the question of whether to invoke executive privileges to the current occupant of the White House. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court denied a request by Trump to withhold documents from the committee.
Wednesday’s vote will mark the third time the panel has addressed contempt charges to the House. The first two recommendations, sent out late last year, were for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Trump ally Steve Bannon.
The contempt case against Bannon resulted in an indictment, the trial is set to begin in July. The Justice Department has been slower in deciding whether to prosecute Meadows, much to the committee’s frustration.
“The committee hopes it will go before a grand jury,” Thompson told reporters Tuesday. “Obviously the Meadows case is still open. We don’t really know where that is, other than we’ve done our job.”
He added, “The firewall is going up from where we are, and the DOJ is using their systems to take it from there.”
Thompson suggested more Witnesses could be scorned in the coming weeks, even as the committee tries to complete the investigative portion of its work over the next two months.
A contempt of congress conviction carries a fine of up to $100,000 and up to a year in prison.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.