The Jan. 6 select committee is seeking criminal prosecution for two of Donald Trump’s top White House aides, saying they illegally defied subpoenas.
The panel announced Thursday that it will commence contempt proceedings Monday against Dan Scavino, Jr. and Peter Navarro. If the matter is approved by the committee, the full House would then vote on whether to make a formal referral to the Justice Department. Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington D.C. would then decide whether or not to file charges.
Scavino is one of Trump’s longest-serving and closest aides. He handled social media for the former president and is regarded as a trusted ally. He was in the White House with Trump during the Jan. 6 attack, the committee has said, and was also one of the first people the panel subpoenaed, back on Sept. 23.
Scavino’s attorney, former House general counsel Stan Brand, declined to comment. Scavino has already sued to block the committee’s subpoena of his phone records from Verizon.
The panel subpoenaed Navarro last month, who responded with a lengthy statement indicating he would not comply with the summons. Navarro, who served as Trump’s trade adviser, had boasted of his role in organizing the congressional effort to contest the election on Jan. 6.
President Joe Biden’s White House later revealed it would not assert executive privilege to shield Navarro from testifying. Trump has already lost a legal battle to claim executive privilege over his White House records, and it’s an unsettled legal question whether he can assert executive privilege if the current president has declined to invoke it. Trump’s allies have continued to try to use it as a defense.
“If President Trump waives the privilege, I would be happy to testify,” Navarro said in a text message. “It is premature for the committee to pursue criminal charges against an individual of the highest rank within the White House for whom executive privilege undeniably applies.”
It’s the fourth time the select committee has moved to hold recalcitrant witnesses in contempt, as they’ve also sought criminal prosecution for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. It’s a signal that investigators likely no longer expect those witnesses to cooperate. This attempt comes as the committee begins to wind down the investigative phase of its probe and begin holding public hearings to detail its findings.
In October, the panel voted to hold Bannon in contempt after he refused to engage with the committee. The House swiftly followed suit and, within three weeks, the Justice Department charged Bannon with two counts of contempt of Congress.
In December, the committee and House similarly held Meadows in contempt, though the Justice Department has yet to signal whether or not it will pursue criminal charges in his more complicated case. Meadows, unlike Bannon, was a member of Trump’s senior White House staff on Jan. 6, 2021. Plus, he briefly cooperated with the committee, providing thousands of emails and text messages, before abruptly reversing course and refusing to appear for a deposition.
The panel also moved to hold Clark in contempt last December, but the full House stopped short of taking up the motion after Clark indicated he would plead the Fifth Amendment. He appeared before the committee in early February to assert his Fifth Amendment rights, and the House hasn’t taken any further action on him since then.
Bannon’s trial on those contempt charges is expected to begin in July, and each charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. He has argued that his decision to defy the committee was based on the advice of his lawyer, Robert Costello. But DOJ lawyers are attempting to block him from making that argument to a jury and U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols is slated to weigh in further on that matter next month. He’s already ordered Justice Department attorneys to disclose more details about its decision to charge Bannon.