A federal judge on Friday postponed the contempt of Congress trial against former Donald Trump adviser Peter Navarro, possibly for months, allowing additional pretrial debate about the role executive privilege can play when the case goes to a jury. make it
In the course of Friday’s nearly two-hour hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta told Justice Department prosecutors that the president’s aides may be exempt from congressional subpoenas, the former general counsel’s office. In its internal opinion, I asked about the position taken by the Justice Department. .
The trial was scheduled to start on Monday.
The questions Mehta raises about presidential privilege have put the Justice Department on the scene to clarify ambiguous interpretations of the scope of presidential immunity.
During and before the Trump administration, the Justice Department has adopted a drastic “absolute rule” that allows some aides to skip the attendance even if Congress submits subpoenas to testify. issued internal guidance explaining the exemption.
On Friday, prosecutors Elizabeth Alloy and John Crabbe said Trump would exercise privilege in response to a subpoena when a Jan. 6 committee in the House requested to participate in its investigation.
Noting their criminal context, Mehta told prosecutors, “It seems to me that a pretty clear line should be drawn before prosecuting anyone.”
“I cannot ask anyone to analyze these OLC opinions in the way you are suggesting,” the judge later said.
Mehta has opened the door to the possibility of Navarro providing evidence in court about what Trump said the former president was exercising presidential privilege over testimony before a House committee on Jan. 6. Open.
So far, Navarro has provided evidence that Trump made such calls when he was asked for documents and testimony by the now defunct House Jan. 6 selection committee. Not provided.
Federal prosecutors resent the notion that Navarro should be allowed to present such evidence in the first place, and if it does not exist in the first place, determine whether such a subpoena would have been protected. Navarro from subpoena.
Mehta ultimately decided that the matter raises legal issues that need to be decided before trial, so it postponed Monday’s start date.
The judge did not schedule a new date for the trial, but instead set a briefing schedule on privilege questions that extended through the end of March.
Navarro’s defense team welcomed the postponement and the opportunity for further briefings, but was vague about what kind of evidence they would offer if given the opportunity to raise a defense that there was an exercise of privilege. was as
Navarro’s attorney, Stan Woodward, stressed that given the risks involved in cross-examination by prosecutors, Navarro could not commit to testifying at trial if such a defense were granted. At one point, Woodward said among the many issues his legal team had to overcome with Navarro’s testimony was “to call my malpractice carrier before taking Navarro to court.” I cynically thought it would.
This story has been updated with additional details.