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House votes to hold ex-Trump aides Navarro, Scavino in contempt of Congress

The House voted Wednesday to hold former White House adviser Peter Navarro, seen leaving the West Wing in 2021, and former Trump communications director Daniel Scavino Jr. in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. (Erin Scott/Reuters)
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The House voted Wednesday to hold two former aides to President Donald Trump in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The 220-to-203 vote results in criminal referrals to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to charge former trade and manufacturing director Peter Navarro and former White House communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. with misdemeanors that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

During Wednesday’s floor debate, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, said Navarro and Scavino “must be held accountable for their defiance of the law.”

“Even if you do it on your own time, trying to overturn an election is still trying to overturn an election,” Thompson said, adding: “This kind of cynical behavior as we investigate a violent insurrection is just despicable. It can’t stand. Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro must be held accountable for their abuses of the public trust.”

Trump adviser Peter Navarro published a book in which he unveiled the plan to keep Trump in office. (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Republicans countered by accusing Democrats of targeting their political opponents — despite the bipartisan nature of the Jan. 6 select committee.

“Today’s vote is not about wrongdoing, and it isn’t about anybody’s character, no matter what they say,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said. “Today’s vote is about the character of this House. It’s about abusing the seat of our democracy to attack American democracy.”

At one point in the debate, Banks suggested that for Democrats, it “might feel really good — and in the vindictive sort of way — to vote to put their political opponents behind bars.” He was swiftly met with pushback by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of two Republicans serving on the select committee.

“It feels sad, and it feels tragic that so many in my own party are refusing to address the constitutional crisis and the challenge that we face,” said Cheney, who was ousted from her House GOP leadership post last year over her criticism of Trump’s false election claims.

Cheney also noted that the committee has conducted “over 800 interviews and depositions of witnesses” with knowledge of the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

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)

In recent weeks, frustrations have been mounting inside the committee regarding the Justice Department’s lack of action on its last criminal referral.

People familiar with the matter said the Justice Department has stonewalled committee staffers who have sought to understand prosecutors’ views on the referrals. The department has not yet acted on the House’s December vote backing contempt charges for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

That has stymied lawmakers who are trying to enforce subpoenas to members of Trump’s inner circle as the committee works to launch hearings in May. The individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about private discussions.

“There is definitely frustration on the committee that we are not getting more from DOJ,” said a person involved with the investigation. “But there’s not a lot of ideas on exactly what we can do.”

Frustrations on the committee toward the Justice Department recently boiled over in public, as Attorney General Merrick Garland has not said whether he will take action on charging Meadows, who is viewed as a key witness as Trump’s former gatekeeper and top aide.

By adding referrals for Scavino and Navarro, the lawmakers are taking a gamble. The move could pressure the Justice Department to bring charges — but if that doesn’t work, it could also render the committee’s subpoenas to top Trump aides as effectively toothless.

Garland dismissed criticisms from the committee last week in a news conference, telling reporters he would not rush the Justice Department’s investigation of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Asked again Wednesday about the delay in making a decision on Meadows and criticism that lack of Justice Department action could render congressional subpoenas ineffective, Garland said only that prosecutors would “follow the facts and the law.”

“We don’t comment any further on investigations,” Garland said.

Members of the committee have privately and publicly grumbled about the Justice Department’s silence, expressing concern that Garland’s quiescence has the potential to seriously hamper their investigation.

“The Department of Justice has a duty to act on this referral and others that we have sent,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said last week. “Without enforcement of congressional subpoenas, there is no oversight, and without oversight, no accountability — for the former president, or any other president, past, present, or future. Without enforcement of its lawful process, Congress ceases to be a coequal branch of government.”

But political pressure also could backfire as the Justice Department seeks to maintain its independence.

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) was one of the few lawmakers on the panel who declined to criticize Garland, telling reporters last week that he felt strongly about the restoration of “the tradition of respect and independence of the law enforcement function.”

“That was one of the things that got trashed during the Trump period,” Raskin added. “So I think that Congress and the president should let the Department of Justice and the attorney general do their job. … Attorney General Garland is my constituent, and I don’t beat up on my constituents.”