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Jan. 6 committee backs contempt charges for two former Trump aides

The committee voted for charges against former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr.

On March 28, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted for charges against former Trump aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino Jr. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted Monday night to hold two former Trump aides in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend the charges against former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. The House will soon vote on whether to refer Navarro and Scavino to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a vice chair of the committee, called Navarro and Scavino key witnesses and rejected their claims of executive privilege as the committee has moved to a “critical stage of this investigation.”

Cheney said during the hearing that the committee has questions about Scavino’s work doing social media for the former president — specifically about “his interactions with an online forum called ‘The Donald,’ and with QAnon, a bizarre and dangerous cult.”

“President Trump, working with Mr. Scavino, successfully spread distrust for our courts — which had repeatedly found no basis to overturn the election,” Cheney added.

Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) criticized Scavino for allegedly stringing along investigators for a month before declining to cooperate and noted that Navarro has stonewalled the committee while doing cable news hits, podcasts and other interviews about the related details.

“They potentially played a part in an attack on American democracy, but they can ignore our investigation because they worked for the government at the time. That’s their argument,” Thompson said. “They’re not fooling anybody. They are obligated to comply with our investigation. They have refused to do so, and that’s a crime.”

Throughout the hearing, lawmakers on the panel lobbed criticisms at the Justice Department; Attorney General Merrick Garland has yet to announce whether he will pursue a prosecution in the contempt case against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

“The Justice Department has a duty to act on these referrals and others this committee has sent,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said during the hearing. “Without enforcement of this lawful process, Congress ceases to be a coequal branch of government.”

In a statement on Sunday, Navarro said that “the Select Committee’s witch hunt is predicated on the Big Lie legal premise of a partisan Appeals Court that Joe Biden can waive Donald Trump’s Executive Privilege. The Supreme Court will have none of that when the time comes — as it surely will — and the DOJ knows such nonsense would gut Executive Privilege and the critical role it plays in effective presidential decision making.”

In his statement, Navarro suggested that the committee investigate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Pentagon, and examine whether FBI informants instigated the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol, a widely debunked claim.

Scavino’s lawyers wrote in a March 25 letter to Jonathan C. Su, a deputy counsel at the White House, that the president has no legal authority to waive executive privilege over the former Trump aide’s testimony.

“The determination of whether such records are protected from disclosure by executive privilege is not for Mr. Scavino to make,” Scavino’s lawyers, Stan M. Brand and Stanley E. Woodward Jr., wrote, arguing that the request for those records “is more properly directed to the [National] Archives.”

The bipartisan Jan. 6 panel is investigating the 2021 storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that tried to stop the confirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win, an attack that led to five deaths and left some 140 members of law enforcement injured.

The committee subpoenaed Scavino, along with several other former Trump advisers, in September, but an attorney for Trump instructed the group not to comply with congressional investigators. Trump’s legal team tried to argue that the former aides were protected by executive and other privileges, but President Biden rejected the executive privilege claims last month.

In a report filed Sunday night, the bipartisan committee said Scavino not only worked as a White House official, “he separately promoted activities designed to advance Mr. Trump’s success as a presidential candidate. He continued to do so after the 2020 election, promoting activities designed to reverse the outcome of a lost election.”

“Mr. Scavino reportedly attended several meetings with the President in which challenges to the election were discussed,” the committee wrote in its report. “Mr. Scavino also tracked social media on behalf of President (Donald) Trump, and he did so at a time when sites reportedly frequented by Mr. Scavino suggested the possibility of violence on January 6th.”

Last month, the committee subpoenaed Navarro, who has written about and publicly discussed the effort to develop a strategy to delay or overturn certification of the 2020 election.

In its report, the committee wrote: “Rather than appear for his deposition or respond directly to the Select Committee, Mr. Navarro issued a public statement regarding his deposition. Mr. Navarro predicted that his interactions with the Select Committee would be judged by the ‘Supreme Court, where this case is headed.’ Mr. Navarro, however, never filed any case seeking relief from his responsibilities to comply with the Select Committee’s subpoena.”

Scavino and Navarro are among the latest high-profile Trump White House officials facing repercussions for refusing to comply with the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoenas. Last year, former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon was indicted on charges of contempt of Congress, which prompted warnings from some Republicans of “payback” that they could do the same to Democrats if they retake control of the House majority in November.

Meadows also refused to cooperate with the committee, leading to the House voting to hold him in contempt of Congress as well in December.

The Jan. 6 committee’s legal battles to subpoena records have not been limited to individuals. Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit seeking to block the panel’s subpoena of data from Salesforce, an RNC software vendor.

In its subpoena of Salesforce, the committee said it needed performance metrics and analytics related to Trump’s campaign to investigate whether Trump and the RNC used the software vendor’s platform to disseminate false statements about the 2020 election, citing evidence that many rioters were motivated by those false claims. The RNC’s lawsuit argued that the request went beyond the scope of the congressional committee’s subpoena power.

Separately on Monday, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to The Washington Post that the committee will seek an interview with Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, has drawn scrutiny for her text messages to Meadows in which she repeatedly pressed him to work aggressively to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Thomas, a conservative activist, and Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

Democratic lawmakers on March 27 called for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

The committee’s plans to ask Thomas for an interview were first reported by CNN. A person familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal committee plans confirmed the report.

In a string of text exchanges with Meadows, Thomas sought to influence Trump’s strategy to overturn the election results and lobbied for lawyer Sidney Powell to be “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team. The revelations of Clarence Thomas’s wife’s texts have drawn calls from Democrats urging him to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election.