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Ex-Trump aide Peter Navarro’s selective prosecution claim rejected by judge

A federal judge on Monday rejected former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’s claim that he is the victim of a Biden administration political vendetta, denying his request to probe why he has been charged with 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.

Navarro asserted that he was selectively prosecuted compared to two other former high ranking Trump White House aides against whom the Justice Department declined to bring charges — chief of staff Mark Meadows and deputy chief Dan Scavino. But U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta found that Navarro failed to make a plausible legal claim.

“These are valid differences between Meadows, Scavino, and Defendant that could have led to their different treatment,” Mehta ruled in a 16-page opinion that found Navarro “failed to meet his heavy burden” as part of his request to seek records from the government that he says show he is being unfairly or wrongly prosecuted.

Former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro pleads not guilty to contempt

Unlike Navarro, attorneys for both Meadows and Scavino engaged in talks with the committee for months after receiving subpoenas for testimony and documents last September, and Meadows turned over thousands of communications before ending cooperation. Meadows and Scavino also received nearly identical letters from Trump attorney Justin Clark directing them to invoke any immunities and privileges that typically shield communications of top presidential aides from Congress, Mehta wrote.

By contrast, Navarro received no such written or oral direction from the former president, and communicated with the committee for three weeks after his February subpoena “largely through terse emails and public statements,” the judge said. Navarro also “made no apparent effort to accommodate the Select Committee, let alone produce records as Meadows did. Instead, Defendant directed the Select Committee to negotiate directly with President Trump,” the judge wrote.

In a written statement, Navarro’s defense team said it would keep trying to persuade the judge. “We appreciate the ‘heavy burden’ Dr. Navarro has to force the government to disclose evidence of its prosecutorial motives. Judge Mehta’s ruling lays out a clear framework for meeting that burden and we’re confident that as the evidence comes forward our next motion to compel will meet that burden.”

Navarro, 73, pleaded not guilty after being charged in June with two misdemeanor counts for refusing to appear for a deposition and for refusing to produce documents to the committee. Navarro has asked Mehta to dismiss his case before trial in November arguing that former senior aides to a former president enjoy absolute immunity from compelled testimony by Congress.

In the meantime, Navarro had sought to bolster his defense by compelling the Justice Department and the grand jury that returned his indictment to turn over records that he claimed could show he was unfairly singled out for prosecution, the Biden White House political interfered in his case or that his due process rights were otherwise violated.

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Among other things, Navarro pointed to President Biden’s statement in an October interview saying that the Justice Department should prosecute those who defy House Jan. 6 committee subpoenas. Navarro also flagged a notice he said he received from the Biden White House Counsel’s Office that stated it would not be invoking executive privilege to bar his cooperation.

But Mehta said that the Justice Department’s decision not to charge Meadows and Scavino after giving them similar notifications contradicted Navarro’s claims, and Navarro failed to show his response to the committee paralleled theirs.

The judge also cast as far-fetched Navarro’s argument that his public criticism and dissent “likely angered the Committee,” and that the Justice Department “seems to have acted in a similar manner” against him.

“This is not evidence of discriminatory motive; it is speculation,” Mehta wrote.

The judge said the only concrete evidence of “improper animus” cited by Navarro was how he was arrested. FBI agents pulled the former Trump trade and manufacturing policy adviser off a boarding bride at Reagan National Airport as he was about to board a flight, and the U.S. Marshals Service later put him in handcuffs and leg chains “as if he were a dangerous felon instead of someone charged with a nonviolent misdemeanor who should have been given an opportunity to turn himself in,” Mehta wrote.

But he said prosecutors in a government filing provided “at least a plausible explanation” for their actions, saying that when case agents attempted to interview and serve Navarro with a subpoena a few days earlier, “He initially refused to open the door and later told the agents to ‘get the f— out of here’.”

“Courts generally should defer to law enforcement about the best way to bring a defendant before the court on a criminal charge,” Mehta said, although he did order the Justice Department to say by Sept. 20 whether it is denying one of Navarro’s demand for grand jury material, and if so why. The substance of the demand was redacted in a public filing.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the House select committee’s chairman, said this spring that the committee sought information from Navarro after reports that “worked with Stephen K. 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.” Bannon, a Trump adviser who left the White House in 2017, was convicted at trial on the same charges facing Navarro before another judge this summer, and his defense has signaled it will appeal after he is sentenced next month.

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