By FARNOUSH AMIRI
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House moved Wednesday to hold former Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress as a new round of partisan fighting erupted over the House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Lawmakers argued over a resolution, that if approved later in the day as expected, would send contempt charges against Navarro and Scavino to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack recommended the charges after the two men refused for months to comply with subpoenas.
The debate on the House floor was raw as Republicans stood by former President Donald Trump and charged that Democrats were trying to politicize the attack on the Capitol by his supporters.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy accused the Jan. 6 committee of “criminalizing dissent,” defended Scavino as a “good man” and lobbed harsh criticism at members of the committee, some by name. “Let’s be honest, this is a political show trial,” McCarthy said.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, among the nine members of the Jan. 6 panel, noted that the committee has two Republicans, including Liz Cheney of Wyoming. “Today the minority leader gave the game away as he boiled over with rage,” Raskin said.
While pursuing contempt charges may not yield any new information for the Jan. 6 committee — any prosecutions could drag for months or years — the vote Wednesday was the latest attempt to show that witnesses will suffer consequences if they don’t cooperate or at least appear for questioning. It’s all part of an effort to claw back legislative authority that eroded during the Trump era, when congressional subpoenas were often flouted and ignored.
Raskin and other Democrats said Scavino and Navarro are among just a handful of individuals who have rebuffed the committee’s requests and subpoenas for information. The panel has interviewed more than 800 witnesses so far.
Scavino has “refused to testify before Congress about what he knows about the most dangerous and sweeping assault on the United States Congress since the War of 1812,” Raskin said.
The committee says Scavino helped promote Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and was with him the day of the attack on the Capitol. As a result, he may have “materials relevant to his videotaping and tweeting” messages that day.
A lawyer for Scavino did not return multiple messages from the AP seeking comment.
Navarro, 72, a former White House trade adviser, was subpoenaed in early February over his promotion of false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election that the committee believes contributed to the attack.
Navarro cited executive privilege when declining to testify, saying the committee “should negotiate this matter with President Trump.” He added, “If he waived the privilege, I will be happy to comply.”
But the Biden administration has already waived executive privilege for Navarro, Scavino and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying it was not justified or in the national interest for them to withhold their testimony.
Executive privilege was developed to protect a president’s ability to obtain candid counsel from his advisers without fear of immediate public disclosure, but it has limits. Courts have traditionally left questions of whether to invoke executive privilege up to the current White House occupant. The Supreme Court earlier this year rejected a bid by Trump to withhold documents from the committee.
The vote Wednesday will be the third time the panel has sent contempt charges to the House floor. The first two referrals, sent late last year, were for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Trump ally Steve Bannon.
The contempt referral against Bannon resulted in an indictment, with a trial set to start in July. The Justice Department has been slower to decide whether to prosecute Meadows, much to the frustration of the committee.
“It’s the committee’s hope that they will present it to a grand jury,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman, told reporters Tuesday. “Obviously, the Meadows case is still outstanding. We don’t really know where that is, other than we’ve done our work.”
He added, “The firewall goes up from our standpoint, and DOJ uses its systems to take it from there.”
Lawmakers are interviewing dozens of individuals a week as they inch closer to public hearings in late spring. In the last week alone, the committee interviewed Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Both were key White House advisers who had substantial access to the former president.
Thompson suggested more witnesses could still be held in contempt in the weeks ahead even as the committee looks to wrap up the investigative portion of their work in the next two months.
A conviction for contempt of Congress carries a fine of up to $100,000 and up to a year in prison.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
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