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Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro indicted for not cooperating with Jan. 6 committee

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A second aide to former President Trump has been indicted for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the January 6 House committee. Peter Navarro, former trade adviser, is charged with two counts of criminal contempt of Congress. When he appeared in court yesterday, he accused prosecutors of playing hardball and blasted the government for his public arrest. Here he is outside the courthouse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER NAVARRO: They intercepted me getting on the plane, and then they put me in handcuffs. They bring me here. They stick me in a cell.

SIMON: And we should note the Justice Department has chosen not to charge Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino, even as a grand jury has indicted Peter Navarro. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here, Scott.

SIMON: Please begin by telling us why Peter Navarro is so potentially important to these ongoing investigations by Congress and the Justice Department into the events of January 6.

JOHNSON: Well, the investigators think that Navarro allegedly played a pretty serious role in trying to delay the certification of the 2020 presidential election and change the outcome of the election. Navarro had a fancy name for this plan. He called it the Green Bay sweep. And in a book he wrote, he was, quote, "the last best chance to snatch a stolen election from the Democrats' jaws of deceit." Now, we need to be clear. The election was not stolen. It was free and fair, as President Trump's own attorney general said. But Navarro also took part in a call just a few days before January 6 last year where he and Trump allegedly leaned on state lawmakers to get on board with this plan. Investigators want to know about that, too.

SIMON: And how does Navarro explain why he won't provide documents?

JOHNSON: He spent a long time in court explaining himself Friday. Then he went outside and talked with reporters even more. Here's part of what Peter Navarro had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NAVARRO: What that kangaroo committee is doing right now is investigating for punitive purposes. They're essentially acting as judge, jury and executioner. Their clear mission is to prevent Donald John Trump from running for president in 2024 and being elected for president. And people like me are in their way.

JOHNSON: Navarro wants Congress to negotiate with Trump's lawyers and leave him out of this mess. He said his hands are tied. The executive privilege is not his to waive. The problem here is that the current president, Joe Biden, has said executive privilege should not apply to what happened on January 6 because it was the worst attack on the government since the War of 1812, and we need to get to the bottom of what happened. Navarro disagrees with that idea, but a federal appeals court has largely backed the Justice Department on this point.

SIMON: House committee is getting ready to hold its first public hearings next week on Thursday. How likely is it they'll be able to get information from Peter Navarro in time for those hearings?

JOHNSON: It is really unlikely. This case is now in the courts, and they move so slowly. But Congress and the Justice Department say there's a broader principle at stake here. You cannot flout oversight, and if you do, there will be some consequences. Peter Navarro faces as many as two years in jail if he's convicted.

SIMON: And what's ahead in his case?

JOHNSON: He's due back in court in a couple of weeks. The judge gently advised him to get a lawyer and not to represent himself anymore. Navarro says he's probably going to represent himself because he doesn't want to spend his retirement savings on lawyers. And another former Trump adviser, Steve Bannon, has been fighting similar contempt of Congress charges. He's scheduled to face trial in D.C. in July. There's also a hint the DOJ is investigating this whole idea of presenting fake slates of electors. And they may want to know even more about what Navarro and Trump did and said about that, too.

SIMON: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.