WASHINGTON ― Two more top aides to former President Donald Trump could face as much as a year in jail after the House referred them to the Justice Department on Wednesday for refusing to honor subpoenas from the Jan. 6 committee.
The chamber voted on a near party-line vote, 220-203, that trade adviser Peter Navarro and social media director Dan Scavino should be prosecuted for their refusal to turn over requested documents and testify about their roles in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro must be held accountable for their abuses of the public trust. They must be held accountable for their defiance of the law,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the committee investigating Jan. 6. “They are in contempt of Congress, which is a crime.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who serves as the committee’s vice chair, pointed out that the panel has already heard from 800 witnesses, including more than a dozen former Trump White House officials, and has learned of the many warnings Trump received that his repeated lies about a “stolen” election could lead to violence on Jan. 6 of last year.
“Despite all of these specific warnings, President Trump and his team moved willfully, through multiple means, to attempt to halt the peaceful transfer of power, to halt the constitutional process for counting votes, and to shatter the constitutional bedrock of our great nation,” Cheney said, adding that the committee would rather hear from the two men than cite them for contempt. “Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro have chosen to not appear. They did not have to make this choice, but they did.”
Though the committee has two Republican members, most GOP lawmakers claimed the investigation was a partisan attack.
“Democrats are using the power of the federal government to jail their political opponents,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House GOP leader. “Today’s resolution is about criminalizing dissent.”
Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin said McCarthy and his allies are creating a “Democratic-Republican caucus” and a “Trump caucus,” who are mainly loyal to the former president. “This committee is closing in on the truth, and that’s why we get all these circus antics,” Raskin said.
Navarro has spoken openly about his scheme to stop the scheduled certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to keep Trump in power despite his loss. Navarro claimed that 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 on his behalf.
Scavino was Trump’s social media director and spent the weeks after Nov. 3, 2020, blasting Trump’s election lies out through his Twitter and Facebook accounts, building up anger among his followers that culminated in Jan. 6. He was also with Trump for much of that day, and frequently helped Trump compose and post messages online.
Trump’s tweet at 2:24 p.m., telling his followers that his own vice president “didn’t have the courage” to overturn the election for him, inflamed the ongoing assault on the building and endangered the lives of Mike Pence, his staff and his family.
Further, Trump failed to do anything to call off his mob for nearly three hours ― inaction that the committee has focused on in its probe.
The House has previously voted to refer two Trump associates for criminal prosecution: 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’s attempt to hang on to power.
Bannon was then indicted by the Justice Department and is awaiting trial, while the Meadows referral is still pending.
The committee had also voted to recommend a contempt referral for Jeffrey Clark, the 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 expensive, 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 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. It 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 the presidency again in 2024.