A federal judge on Friday delayed the contempt trial of former Donald Trump adviser Peter Navarro, possibly months, to allow for more debate on the possible role of executive privilege as the case goes to juries. pretrial debate.
During a nearly two-hour hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta grilled Justice Department prosecutors over the department’s position, taken in a previous internal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, that the president’s intimate Aides are immune to congressional subpoenas.
The trial was originally scheduled to begin on Monday.
In response to Mehta’s question about executive privilege, the Justice Department was on the spot to clear up its vague interpretation of the scope of the president’s immunity.
During the Trump administration and several previous administrations, the Justice Department issued internal guidance describing a sweeping “absolute immunity” that shielded some presidential aides from even having to appear in court if they were subpoenaed by Congress to testify — despite such The existence of immunity was rejected in court.
Prosecutors Elizabeth Alloy and John Crabbe sought to skirt Mehta’s assumption on Friday whether such immunity would apply to Navarro if he had been instructed, as a House Jan. 6 committee Asking him to participate in the investigation, Trump was responding to the subpoena, citing privilege.
Mehta pointed out to prosecutors that they were in a criminal background, saying “in my opinion, you should have some very clear lines before you charge someone.”
“You can’t ask someone to parse these OLC opinions the way you suggest,” the judge said later.
Mehta opened the door to the possibility that Navarro could present evidence at trial — potentially taking a stand — Trump had told him the former president was citing in his Jan. 6 testimony before a House committee. executive privilege.
So far, Navarro has provided no evidence that Trump made such an invocation when he was subpoenaed by the now-defunct House Select Committee on Jan. 6 to provide documents and testimony.
Federal prosecutors bristled at the idea that Navarro should still be allowed to present such evidence, arguing that it didn’t exist in the first place and that if it did, a jury wouldn’t be able to decide whether such a call would have shielded Navarro from the subpoena.
Ultimately, Mehta decided the issue raised legal issues that needed to be decided before trial, so he pushed back Monday’s start date.
Instead of scheduling a new trial date, the judge set a schedule for briefings on privilege issues that will run through the end of March.
Navarro’s lawyers, while welcoming the delay and the opportunity for more briefings, have been vague about what evidence they would seek to present if given the opportunity to defend the invocation of privilege.
Navarro’s attorney, Stan Woodward, stressed that he could not promise that Navarro would testify if such a defense was allowed, given the risk of cross-examination by prosecutors. Woodward once quipped that one of the many problems his legal team had to overcome while Navarro was testifying was “calling my malpractice carrier before I get Navarro to testify.”
This story has been updated with more details.