House approves criminal contempt referrals for 2 Trump aides over the Jan. 6 attack

Then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino delivers a recorded address for the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020, in the empty Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino delivers a recorded address for the Republican National Convention on Aug. 26, 2020, in the empty Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to hold former Trump White House aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in criminal contempt of Congress after they defied subpoenas from the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The move comes after the Democratic-led panel last month approved a contempt report against Navarro, the former trade adviser, and Scavino, a former deputy chief of staff.

The 220-203 floor vote, cast largely along party lines, triggers a series of steps to send the criminal referrals to the U.S. attorney’s office, leaving the Justice Department to decide whether it will pursue prosecution.

Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the only two Republicans appointed to serve on the select committee, were the only two from their party to vote for the referral.

“To run into this kind of obstruction, this kind of cynical behavior, as we investigate a violent insurrection, is just despicable,” select committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “It can’t stand. Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro must be held accountable for their abuses of the public trust. They must be held accountable for their defiance of the law. They are in contempt of Congress, which is a crime.”

The vote came after a day of heated debate on the House floor as Republicans attacked the committee’s work and used stalling tactics to divert attention to immigration concerns instead. For example, more than 60 Republicans asked during earlier debate to take up a border security bill instead.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy railed against the committee for putting on a “political show trial” using the insurrection as a “blank check” for its investigation. McCarthy also called its work a “disgusting betrayal of the Constitution” and said the referrals were about “criminalizing dissent.”

McCarthy vowed to shut down the panel if Republicans take over control of the House next year — which many projections show they have a good chance of doing.

“Do we really want to live in a country where politicians can seize your phone records, compel your testimony and ignore your rights because they disagree with your politics?” McCarthy asked. “Most Americans don’t want to live in a country like that. That happens in Russia, communist China and North Korea and it should never happen in America. But, Mister Speaker, under one party rule it is. But to all Americans, when we take back the House, it will stop.”

That did little to dissuade Cheney, the panel’s ranking Republican. She highlighted the committee’s more than 800 interviews and depositions with witnesses, including more than a dozen ex-Trump White House staffers.

“When you hear my colleagues make political, partisan attacks on the select committee, I hope all of us can remember some basic facts,” Cheney said.

“Through these interviews, we have learned that President Trump and his team were warned in advance, and repeatedly, that the efforts they undertook to overturn the 2020 election would violate the law and the Constitution,” Cheney added. “They were warned that January Sixth could and likely would turn violent.”

Scavino and Navarro have repeatedly refuted the claims of the committee, saying executive privilege has prevented their cooperation with subpoenas from the Democratic-led committee. The subpoenas compelled them to produce documents and testify.

However, President Biden waived executive privilege claims in both cases.

The panel had issued a 34-page report and two dozen exhibits documenting attempts get Navarro and Scavino to cooperate. Scavino’s deposition date was scheduled and rescheduled six different times, Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Jan. 6 panel member, said during Wednesday’s debate.

Navarro was subpoenaed in February, while Scavino was among the first wave of ex-Trump officials subpoenaed last September.

Wednesday’s floor vote marks the third for a criminal contempt referral effort tied to the Jan. 6 committee’s work. Previously, the House has approved criminal referrals for ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

So far, the Justice Department has only pursued prosecution for one of those cases, Bannon, who is now battling related criminal charges.

In each case, a subpoenaed witness could face up a year in jail for each contempt charge, plus fines of up to $1,000 each.

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