Former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro cannot testify before a jury in a congressional contempt hearing next week, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, after the former president asserted privilege to shield him from a Jan. 6 House committee subpoena.
US District Judge Amit P. Mehta said Navarro did not meet the burden of establishing that Donald Trump properly granted executive authority or evidentiary immunity at the pretrial conference.
Mehta announced the ruling after holding an evidentiary hearing on Monday, during which Navarro testified that Trump had said.
Navarro’s criminal case, brought by the Justice Department in June 2022, goes to trial next Tuesday. Navarro has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and Mehta’s new ruling severely limits any arguments the former Trump aide could make in his defense.
In a lengthy explanation of his ruling delivered from the bench on Wednesday, Mehta said he had decided that Trump or someone authorized to assert privilege or immunity on his behalf should personally claim the privilege. The judge said Navarro did not present enough evidence to show such a commitment when subpoenaed for testimony and documents by a House committee in February 2022.
“Mere acknowledgment does not invalidate privilege,” Mehta said.
The judge said Navarro’s “unspecified” testimony on Feb. 20, 2022, which Trump insisted was “lacking specificity” during that call.
“The lack of detail — in my view — is telling,” Mehta said. The judge also pointed to Trump’s lack of follow-up with Congress after the House voted to hold Navarro in contempt that April, suggesting Trump may have informed lawmakers of the House’s privilege to amend the record.
“That silence strongly confirms” that there were no formal offers, Mehta said.
The case was initially scheduled to go to trial this year, but it was delayed so Mehta could consider whether he could present evidence about Trump’s alleged claims.
During Monday’s hearing, Navarro testified that in conversations with Trump following the committee’s issuance of the subpoena on February 9, 2022, Navarro testified that the former president expressed his unwillingness to cooperate with the committee.
“It was clear that the privilege was invoked during that call,” Navarro said at one point, referring to the February 20, 2022 call.
“There is no doubt that the offer was received from the get-go — none,” he added later.
But after Navarro’s testimony concluded, the judge became more skeptical of Navarro’s claims, saying, “I still don’t know what the president said” about the February call.
“That’s pretty weak sass,” the judge said later, as Navarro made a comment that Trump regretted not letting him testify. The comment was used by Navarro and his team to bolster their argument that Trump was privileged because his subsequent remorse implied it was.