Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro goes to prison after historic contempt prosecution

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Pedro Navarroformer White House aide to former president donald trumpis speaking to reporters at a Miami gas station Tuesday morning before turning himself in to federal prison, where he will make history as the first former White House official to be jailed on a contempt of Congress conviction.

Navarro was sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee that investigated the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

His conviction was a rare example of a member of Trump’s inner circle being held accountable by the criminal justice system for his resistance to scrutiny. Navarro’s stay in prison comes when Trump himself has not yet faced criminal consequences for the various crimes he has been accused of committing.

“It’s historic, and it will be historic for future White House aides who are subpoenaed by Congress,” Stanley Brand, a former House general counsel who now represents Navarro as one of his defense attorneys, said Monday.

Navarro’s punishment for evading a House investigation will increase the leverage lawmakers (under administrations of both parties) will have in securing cooperation in their investigations.

For decades, the two branches of government have engaged in a game of chicken over the protections surrounding the presidency and how Congress can enforce its subpoena; There have been incentives on both sides to negotiate an agreement rather than test the monumental questions of executive privilege and immunity in court.

In this case, the Justice Department took the unusual step of prosecuting a former White House aide for ignoring a congressional subpoena, at Congress’ urging after finding Navarro in criminal contempt and referring him to the Justice Department. Prosecutors said Navarro’s complete failure to comply with lawmakers’ demands was a far cry from the exchanges other former officials have typically had with lawmakers over his involvement in congressional investigations.

Navarro made a last attempt to obtain an intervention from the Supreme Court to postpone his surrender to prison.

“The prosecution of a top presidential advisor who asserts executive privilege conflicts with the constitutional independence required by the separation of powers doctrine,” his attorneys wrote to the high court. “Not once before Dr. Navarro’s indictment had the Justice Department concluded that a top presidential advisor could be prosecuted for contempt of Congress following an assertion of executive privilege.”

His lawyers even invoked the mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Anne Gorsuchwho as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s was found guilty of contempt by the US House of Representatives, but never prosecuted.

Chief Justice John Roberts refused Navarro’s request on Monday.

Navarro has never been able to demonstrate that executive privilege would have applied to information he has linked to the 2020 election.

U.S. Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar responded to the justices that even “a successful claim of privilege would not excuse the applicant’s complete failure to comply with the subpoena.

Whereas many decades ago the U.S. House of Representatives would on its own detain witnesses who thwarted its subpoenas, in recent years Congress could only seek enforcement of subpoenas through lawsuits – which became more difficult during the Trump presidency – and through referrals to the Department of Justice. However, the number of times the Justice Department has agreed to prosecute a witness for contempt of Congress is extremely low. In 2010, a political appointee in George W. Bush’s administration was charged with contempt of Congress and later agreed to serve a day in jail.

Although high-stakes confrontations over the involvement of presidents and their advisers in congressional investigations predate the Trump administration, Trump and his allies took the resistance to a new level, both during and after Trump’s presidency.

Navarro was subpoenaed to present documents and testimony related to the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which culminated in the ransacking of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Navarro rejected the demands, alleging that Trump had asserted privilege over the requests and arguing that the House committee must negotiate directly with Trump to resolve that dispute. He was charged in June 2022 with two counts of contempt of Congress and found guilty of both charges last September.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was indicted and convicted on similar charges, stemming from his own failure to comply with a House committee’s Jan. 6 subpoenas. He was no longer in the White House during the period the House committee was investigating. The trial judge in his case, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, allowed Bannon to delay serving his four-month prison sentence while his appeals continue to proceed.

Navarro will serve his sentence in a federal prison in Miami, where he is expected to spend 90 days, given federal laws that allow the early release of certain inmates.

He hopes to be assigned to an air-conditioned dormitory reserved for “elderly” male inmates, according to Sam Mangel, the prison consultant Navarro hired to prepare for his incarceration.

That dorm houses 80 men in bunk beds, Mangel told CNN, and “there will be no privacy in the dorm.”

“It can be scary and intimidating. But he will be perfectly safe,” Mangel said. Navarro will have access to the televisions installed in the prison that will allow him to follow the news, and he will also be able to use email and make phone calls.

The prison is one of the oldest in the country and is located next to the city zoo.

“Not only can you hear the lions… you can hear the lions roar every morning,” Mangel said.

This story has been updated with additional news.

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