“The White House is declining the invitation for Peter Navarro to testify based on the longstanding precedent, followed by administrations of both political parties, rooted in clearly established constitutional doctrines, and supported by the Department of Justice, that senior advisors to the President generally do not testify before Congress,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement Tuesday.
House Democrats have long balked at the White House’s position, arguing it is curtails their ability to fulfill their oversight obligations of the executive branch.
Navarro’s refusal to testify comes as the White House, under new chief of staff Mark Meadows, is trying to curb the attempts by House Democrats to secure testimony from prominent officials as they try to conduct oversight of the administration. In a recent memo to congressional committees, the Trump White House said that demands on staff and resources are “extraordinary” and that officials cannot testify without Meadows’s approval.
Navarro’s rebuffing of the committee sets up a potential showdown over his testimony in the coming weeks.
The Washington Post obtained a copy of Navarro’s invitation from a person who was not authorized to share the document. In the May 7 letter to Navarro, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) invites Navarro to testify on Thursday before the subcommittee, which she chairs.
“I am writing to invite you to testify,” Eshoo writes. “The Subcommittee hearing is titled, ‘Protecting Scientific Integrity in the covid-19 Response.’ ”
The letter — an invitation rather than a formal congressional subpoena demanding testimony — is part of an effort by Eshoo to broaden the ongoing congressional inquiry of the whistleblower complaint of Rick Bright, a former top vaccine official removed from his post last month. Bright’s attorney, Debra Katz, confirmed last week that he will appear at Eshoo’s subcommittee hearing.
Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he was reassigned to a less prestigious role because he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency” and raised health concerns over a drug pushed by Trump as a possible coronavirus cure.
Bright also mentions Navarro throughout his complaint, casting him as a Trump White House official who shared his apprehension about the administration’s preparedness.
Bright’s complaint states that Navarro “clearly shared Dr. Bright’s concerns about the potential devastation the United States would face from the coronavirus and asked Dr. Bright to identify the supply chain and medical countermeasures most critical to address at that time,” in early February, “to save lives.”
Bright also asserts in the complaint that he resisted pressure from HHS political leadership to make “potentially harmful drugs widely available,” including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which Trump has repeatedly heralded, and urged people to take both from his Twitter account and the White House lectern. The president’s associates, including Fox host Laura Ingraham and Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, have touted the drug as a treatment for covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, in private Oval Office meetings and phone calls.
In a statement to The Post, Eshoo said she “invited Dr. Navarro to testify because he is a key figure in Dr. Bright’s whistleblower complaint and is a high-level authority in the Trump administration who took Dr. Bright’s warnings seriously. It’s unfortunate the administration is not willing to make witnesses available to the House.”
Eshoo added, “Congress and the American people would benefit from hearing a complete account from witnesses included in Dr. Bright’s complaint to better understand what was needed in the early days of this public health crisis to protect the American people and our nation’s health care workers.”
Eshoo has spoken publicly in recent weeks about inviting two other Trump administration officials: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response. Both are mentioned throughout Bright’s whistleblower complaint.
Azar and Kadlec have received similar letters from Eshoo, a White House aide said Tuesday and, like Navarro, do not plan to respond or appear at Thursday’s hearing. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss private deliberations.
An HHS spokesperson declined to comment.
The House hearing comes as the Republican-controlled Senate is also seeking testimony from administration officials.
Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert and a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, testified before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. But the White House has blocked Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee investigating the coronavirus outbreak and response, arguing that it would be “counterproductive” for him to appear as he works on the government’s response to the pandemic.
Earlier this month, however, Trump offered a different explanation. He said he wouldn’t let Fauci testify before members of the House because they were a “bunch of Trump haters.”
Fauci testified on Tuesday that reopening the economy should be done methodically and with caution.
“If some areas, cities, states or what-have-you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said. “I have been very clear in my message — to try, to the best extent possible, to go by the guidelines, which have been very well thought-out and very well-delineated.”
Yasmeen Abutaleb contributed to this report.