When historians of the future look back on this era when all of Trump’s consorts and all of his kin couldn’t put Trump world back together again, they will single out the Peter Navarro contempt trial as defining the entire phenomenon. The Navarro trial has all the elements that make Donald Trump and his entourage unique in our politics: There is the hubris, the audacity, the sheer inequity, and the unshakable belief that no matter what these people do, they will simply walk, unfettered and scot free.
Stanley Woodward is representing Navarro. Woodward is the controversial chap who represents a great many defendants in Trump world. He represents Walt Nauta and Carlos DeOlivera — for now. He did represent Yuscil Taveras, the IT person who oversaw surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago. Taveras met with independent counsel and decided to hire a new lawyer and change his previous false testimony, as you recall.
Woodward endeared himself in court Wednesday when, after listening to the prosecution’s opening statement he quipped, “The trailer is better than the movie.” And then he went on to gripe because “Dr.” Navarro wasn’t granted the honorific, but was referred to only as “Mister” Navarro. You see what I’m saying about hubris? And audacity?
The man ignored a subpoena. This is a contempt trial. As a reporter at Mother Jones observed, “This isn’t rocket science.”
It doesn’t take a doctorate to understand the case against Navarro. The January 6 committee subpoenaed him and he refused to comply, or even engage with its members. That’s contempt of Congress, DOJ says.
The subpoena is “not voluntary,” federal prosecutor John Crabb told jurors in his opening statement. “It wasn’t an invitation. It’s a legal requirement.”
But Navarro’s wish to have his PhD recognized may be a good example of his apparently substantial self-regard. A man who advised Trump on trade, China, Covid, and how to try to retain power despite losing the 2020 election, Navarro also seems to have taken the position that his own interpretation of the Constitution excludes him from having to respond to an official congressional inquiry.
The committee’s subpoena sought documents and testimony from Navarro that it believed would shed light on the causes of the attack on Congress. Navarro ignored the subpoena, vaguely asserting executive privilege, which he claims Trump privately instructed him to invoke. The committee said Navarro still needed to show up, even if he planned to argue that he could not answer questions, and that he needed to detail what documents he might have had that he believed executive privilege prevented him from turning them over. Navarro didn’t do any of that. He just blew the panel off.
“Mr. Navarro ignored his subpoena,” Crabb said. “He acted as if he’s above the law, but he’s not above the law.”
Hundreds of people, including many former White House officials, complied with the January 6 committee’s subpoenas. Navarro, along with Steve Bannon, already convicted of contempt of Congress, is among the few who chose not to respond. The Justice Department, notably, did not pursue contempt charges against former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump aide Dan Scavino, despite a House recommendation that they face prosecution. But unlike Navarro and Bannon, Meadows and Scavino negotiated with the committee, arguing over the limits of any potential testimony, before refusing to cooperate.
That brings us to the sheer inequity characteristic of both this trial and the Trump era in general, that it’s somehow a virtue in Trump world to be willfully unfair and unjust, to double and triple down on something wrong, with the erroneous and illogical belief that two wrongs — or three — will eventually make a right. Never happens, but still they try, over and over.
Navarro, that is, might have avoided criminal charges had he engaged with the panel. Instead, he asserted he had the right not to do so. He has since filed numerous motions elaborating on that position and asking to have his case dismissed, all of which were shot down by US District Court Judge Amit Mehta.
Navarro has claimed the Justice Department is persecuting him and other Trump supporters for their politics, and has insisted his case involves potentially precedent-setting issues related to the division of powers that will ultimately be decided—after his likely conviction and appeal—by the Supreme Court. (Bannon’s appeal of his contempt conviction is now before DC’s Circuit court.) Navarro also has complained publicly about his legal fees and used media interviews outside the courthouse to solicit donations to a legal defense fund—efforts hindered by a heckler who goes by “Anarchy Princess.”
Here is the “clown with a whistle, witch with a broom” who bedevils Navarro, his own personal troll.
This is from last week pic.twitter.com/V32TAFDMhC
— Republicans against Trump (@RpsAgainstTrump) September 6, 2023
Navarro has been wrong since the get go. He put together his Green Bay Sweep plot, a procedure by which a kind of filibustering would take place, stalling the certification of the election for days if not weeks. He called this the “last, best chance to snatch a stolen election from the Democrats’ jaws of deceit.” The only problem is, there was no stolen election and the Green Bay Sweep was a plot to overthrow the results of a free and fair election and keep a man who had been voted out in power. The irony there is that the guy who shouted “YOU’RE FIRED!” for fourteen years on TV could not hear it when 81 million American people said the same thing to him.
Navarro said Trump “was on board with the strategy,” we don’t doubt that, and that so were “over 100 congressmen.” We don’t doubt that either. We well recall that when Paul Gosar stood up to object, followed by Ted Cruz that they received standing applause from their GOP colleagues. Oscar level performative assholery that was, and if Trump hadn’t incited a riot, it might have stayed that way.
But Trump did incite a riot, several people were killed, four Capitol police officers took their own lives and numerous other officers and bystanders were injured and/or disabled that day. The halls of congress were smeared with human excrement and Secret Service agents texted home saying goodbye, because they feared for their very lives. Death stalked the Capitol that day and she was felt.
But with all this evidence piled up against him, as big as the Rocky range of Mountains in the west, Navarro is of the unshakable belief that he will somehow go to the Supreme Court and be exonerated — and become a cultural hero, in his fantasy vision, we dare say. Maybe they’ll make a movie out of him. And maybe they will, but he won’t be the hero.
The Navarro trial is short and sweet so far. Thursday it goes to the jury. Watch them swiftly dispose of the matter.
Trumpism is many things but central among them is a delusion that you can do what you want — as Trump is always reminding people is true of himself, he “can do whatever he wants” — and get away with it. You can topple the government if you feel like it, but somehow you’ll walk.
History will record that these people got a tremendous wake up call one day. That will be the bottom line. How we get there and the details of what happens are what we watch unfold daily. We are alive during a fascinating passage in American history, of that there is no question.