A federal judge on Thursday postponed the trial of former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on contempt of Congress charges until Jan. 11 and criticized prosecutors’ suggestion that a trial as initially scheduled before Congress potentially changes hands in the new year might prompt his cooperation.
That date is no longer available, said U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, because of the long-running Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy trial now before him involving Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four others. Now in its sixth week, Rhodes’s trial in federal court in Washington has been delayed by his recent bout with covid-19 and witness availability issues.
In an unusually blunt argument against delay, prosecutor Raymond N. Hulser said it was the “strong preference” of the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. “to try this case while the committee is in existence,” meaning before the current Congress under Democratic control adjourns Jan. 3, and a new Congress might be led by Republicans in connection with this week’s midterm elections.
Hulser said the U.S. attorney’s office took seriously its jurisdiction to prosecute the historically rare charge of contempt of Congress, including “to bring and resolve these as promptly as possible.”
“If there is any possibility that a person can be convinced by the pressing nature of a criminal trial to say, ‘Okay, I will go and I will answer questions. I will provide documents. We would like to be a catalyst in that,” Hulser said.
Mehta objected to the suggestion that a trial might be used to compel cooperation, and Hulser had made clear that Navarro’s criminal case would go forward regardless.
“I understand the U.S. attorney’s desire, but I don’t want these proceedings to be a lever in a way the U.S. attorney’s office has suggested,” the judge said, noting that Navarro “remains free to provide documents or testimony.”
Navarro attorney Stanley Woodward said his client’s defense is that former president Donald Trump has invoked executive privilege shielding his communications as a top presidential aide from Congress, and that it is up to the House to negotiate his cooperation with Trump, not Navarro. Mehta has not yet ruled on that claim. Navarro has pleaded not guilty to both counts, each punishable by at least 30 days and up to one year in jail.
An earlier version of this article misstated a trial date in Navarro's case. This article has been corrected.