Former Trump White House trade advisor Peter Navarro will stand trial next month for allegedly wilfully defying a congressional subpoena after he claimed he was merely following an executive privilege claim from former president Donald Trump.
Judge Amit Mehta said Mr Navarro’s claim to have been instructed by Mr Trump to invoke executive privilege during a 20 February 2022 phone call was not accurate in a ruling delivered aloud from the bench and first reported by Politico.
Mr Navarro had argued that an assertion of executive privilege by Mr Trump over a subpoena from a House select subcommittee on the coronavirus response also applied to a subpoena he later received from the House January 6 select committee — the compulsory process he is charged with ignoring.
But Judge Mehta noted that binding case law on how to handle executive privilege claims states that such a claim has to be specific and cannot be a blanket assertion made to avoid responding to any questions at all. He also said Mr Navarro would have had to show up for his deposition and make particularised assertions in response to questions,
“There was no formal invocation of executive privilege by [Trump] after personal consideration nor authorization to Mr Navarro to invoke privilege on his behalf,” he said.
He said Mr Navarro had “not met his burden” to show that Mr Trump had ordered him to invoke executive privilege, which means Mr Navarro’s trial will start as scheduled.
Judge Mehta’s ruling comes just days after a hearing in which he’d chided the former Trump administration adviser and his attorneys for not having evidence to support their executive privilege claims.
The former White House aide, who has openly bragged of helping to formulate plans that were meant to keep Mr Trump in office despite his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, has said he refused to comply with the compulsory process because he was honouring a claim of executive privilege by Mr Trump.
But at the Monday hearing, Judge Mehta had appeared sceptical about the basis for letting Mr Navarro present such a defence to a jury when he goes on trial next month.
The former White House official testified he was told not to comply by the former president during a 20 February 2022 phone call between the two men, 11 days after the House panel issued the subpoena.
“It was clear during that call that privilege was invoked — very clear,” he said. “There was no question that the privilege had been invoked from the get-go — none”.
The judge told the ex-Trump aide’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, that their argument was hard to support absent direct evidence that Mr Navarro was actually told not to comply with the subpoena.
“I still don’t know what the president said — I don’t have any words from the former president,” said the judge, who added that testimony from Mr Navarro about how Mr Trump once expressed regret for not letting him testify was “pretty weak sauce”.
“The record is barren, there is nothing here, even after your client’s testimony,” the judge said.