“This committee is doing its job. The Department of Justice needs to do theirs,” committee member Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said during Monday’s business meeting. The panel voted to recommend Trump White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and Trump’s onetime trade adviser, Peter Navarro, for criminal contempt charges for their refusal to cooperate with the committee’s investigation or appear for a scheduled deposition.
Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria said that “the Department of Justice must act swiftly,” adding, “I will echo what my colleagues have already said, but more bluntly: Attorney General Garland, do your job — so that we can do ours.”
That message to DOJ was only amplified by committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, casting the committee’s probe as a struggle for the future of democracy. Referencing the ongoing invasion of Ukraine in her opening remarks, Cheney warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions remind “us what happens when authoritarians rule.”
If both pass out of the House, the referrals would then be sent to the Department of Justice, which will decide if there is enough evidence to prosecute. The committee has advanced three previous criminal referrals.
Cheney at the meeting drew a direct parallel between the panel’s work to hold Trump accountable and the Russian invasion of Ukraine — casting the House investigation as essential to the future of democracy and setting the stage for her fellow committee members to make their message to DOJ even more clear and urgent.
“The Department of Justice has a duty to act on this referral and others we have sent,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said. “Without enforcement of congressional subpoenas, there is no oversight. And without oversight, no accountability, not for the former President or any other president, past, present or future.”
The panel claims it granted Scavino six extensions of his deadline to sit for an interview and hand over documents and noted that several of the issues Navarro said he could not discuss he had previously written about in his book.
The Justice Department is still reviewing the contempt referral of Meadows, which the full House voted on in December. Scavino was initially subpoenaed at the same time as Bannon and Meadows.
Why the committee is voting on a criminal referral for Scavino
Scavino used a series of delay tactics to prevent any type of substantive cooperation with its investigation, according to the committee, which argues he never substantively engaged and therefore was in violation of his subpoena. Scavino is one of Trump’s closest and most loyal allies, having served in the administration from beginning to end and as one of his earliest campaign staffers.
He was intimately involved with Trump’s social media channels, often posting message to Trump’s followers on the then-President’s behalf. The committee believes Scavino is privy to meetings and details of the events leading up to and on January 6, including strategy sessions that were directly tied to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
“Mr. Scavino reportedly attended several meetings with the President in which challenges to the election were discussed,” the committee wrote in its report. “Mr. Scavino also tracked social media on behalf of President (Donald) Trump, and he did so at a time when sites reportedly frequented by Mr. Scavino suggested the possibility of violence on January 6th.”
The committee cites news stories that discuss Scavino tracking the website “TheDonald.win,” which their report describes as a “an online forum frequented by individuals who openly advocated and planned violence in the weeks leading up to January 6th.”
Scavino has still contested his need to testify, according to a letter from his attorney Stanley Brand to the White House on March 25, which Brand provided to CNN on Sunday.
The letter kicks legal questions back to the Biden administration, which had determined it would not protect any of Scavino’s testimony.
Scavino, however, argues the law isn’t settled yet on whether the current president can waive privilege on all testimony, including Scavino’s conversations with Trump, especially if Trump may make a claim to secrecy of his own.
Why the committee is voting on a criminal referral for Navarro
Thompson cited the executive privilege argument in his opening statement Monday.
“They potentially played a part in an attack on American democracy, but they can ignore our investigation because they worked for the government at the time. That’s their argument,” Thompson said. “They’re not fooling anybody. They are obligated to comply with our investigation. They have refused to do so. And that’s a crime.”
The committee responded by informing him that there were several topic areas it wanted to discuss with him that were not covered under privilege, but Navarro rejected the offer. Navarro also asked the committee if the proceedings would be held in public. He ultimately closed off communication with the committee and referred all questions regarding his cooperation to Trump and his attorneys.
The committee made note of Navarro citing privilege despite the fact that many of the topics it wanted to discuss with him he had already written about in great detail in his book.
”There are topics that the Select Committee believes it can discuss with [him] without raising any executive privilege concerns at all, including, but not limited to, questions related to [his] public three-part report about purported fraud in the November 2020 election and the plan [he] described in [his] book,” the committee wrote in an email to Navarro on March 1.
“In the days leading up to January 6, 2021, according to evidence obtained by the Select Committee, Mr. Navarro also encouraged Mark Meadows (and possibly others) to call Roger Stone to discuss January 6th,” the committee wrote.
Navarro has been very public about his attempts to work with the Trump campaign to subvert the 2020 election. In his book, he details a plan called the “Green Bay Sweep,” which involved convincing state leaders in several swing states to call into question the election results in an attempt to delay and eventually prevent the certification.
In a statement to CNN, Navarro responded to the committee’s contempt report filing by saying he believes President Joe Biden does not have the ability to waive Trump’s executive privilege in his case. He also claimed that the committee’s investigation is predicated on a false notion that the 2020 presidential election was “free and fair.”
“My position remains this is not my Executive Privilege to waive and the Committee should negotiate this matter with President Trump,” Navarro said in a statement. “If he waives the privilege, I will be happy to comply; but I see no effort by the Committee to clarify this matter with President Trump, which is bad faith and bad law.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Monday.