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Former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro pleads not guilty to contempt

Former White House official Peter Navarro speaks to members of the media following a court appearance earlier this month. (Eric Lee/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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Former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro pleaded not guilty Friday to two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The plea came at a brief hearing in federal district court in Washington, where Navarro appeared with his new lawyers, John P. Rowley III and John S. Irving IV, and took a less combative posture than he had immediately after his arrest. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta scheduled his trial for Nov. 17.

Navarro, 72, was charged with one count for refusing to appear for a deposition and another for refusing to produce documents to the committee in response to a subpoena. Each contempt charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

Outside the court, Navarro’s defense attorney questioned the appropriateness of Navarro’s arrest, but said the legal team would take that matter up “at the appropriate time.” Navarro alleges he was in contact with the FBI and could have turned himself in, but that agents improperly pulled him off a Jetway at Reagan National Airport and put him in handcuffs and leg chains.

“I’m telling you as a former federal prosecutor, for a misdemeanor charge in a white-collar case involving what is essentially a process crime, handcuffs and leg irons are not the order of the day,” Rowley said, adding that the arrest and rapid announcement of charges were “obviously done for the purpose of humiliating Mr. Navarro.”

“We need to find out in this case, who made that decision, and why that decision was made,” Rowley said.

After an initial court appearance on June 3, Navarro had attacked prosecutors and the FBI, likening the government’s conduct to that of “Stalinist Russia, the Chinese Communist Party” and “terrorism.” The FBI said at the time it could not confirm the manner of Navarro’s arrest; a spokeswoman on Friday pointed to a court filing which accused Navarro of making false statements to the media about the circumstances of his detainment. The filing confirmed Navarro was handcuffed, but asserted that agents made adjustments when he complained about discomfort.

Navarro is one of two former Trump aides to face criminal charges after ignoring committee subpoenas for testimony and documents from the Jan. 6 committee. The other, former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, is set to face trial July 18 after a judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss his indictment.

After announcing Navarro’s indictment, the Justice Department said it would not pursue charges against two other Trump aides, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr., who the House had similarly referred for prosecution for rebuffing the committee.

The House investigative panel issued a subpoena to Navarro on Feb. 9, seeking information about his actions to develop a strategy to delay or overturn certification of the 2020 election.

In a letter accompanying the subpoena, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the select committee, cited news reports that the former Trump trade and manufacturing policy adviser “worked with Steve Bannon and others to develop and implement a plan to delay Congress’s certification of, and ultimately change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”

The letter also cited a recent book by Navarro, “In Trump Time,” in which he detailed a plan called “The Green Bay Sweep.” He described the plan as the “last best chance to snatch a stolen election from the Democrats’ jaws of deceit.”

Navarro’s team asked for a trial date in January or later, noting that the former Trump trade adviser would be promoting a different, forthcoming book through the end of the year, “Taking Back Trump’s America.” The book, attorney Irving said, “is important to him in terms of income and what not. It’s not a trivial thing.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn objected that because the judge’s schedule is packed with Jan. 6 Capitol riot cases, picking a date in 2023 could mean the trial would slip to April.

“The government has serious issues about delaying trial for a book tour,” Vaughn said. “The public has an interest in the resolution of this case.”

Mehta agreed. “I don’t think it’s in the public interest to wait until April. It’s got complicated legal issues, but as far as trying it, it is not going to take that much time,” he said.

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