U.S. House committee probing Capitol riot votes to hold 2 former Trump advisers in contempt of Congress
Trump 'more likely than not' committed felony on day of riot, judge writes in separate ruling
The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol voted unanimously Monday night to hold former Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress for their months-long refusal to comply with subpoenas.
The committee made their case that Navarro, former president Donald Trump's trade adviser, and Scavino, a White House communications aide under Trump, have been unco-operative in the congressional probe into the deadly insurrection and, as a result, are in contempt.
"They're not fooling anybody. They are obligated to comply with our investigation. They have refused to do so. And that's a crime," Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee's Democratic chairperson, said in his opening remarks.
The recommendation of criminal charges now goes to the full House, where it is likely to be approved by the Democratic-majority chamber. Approval there would then send the charges to the U.S. Justice Department, which has the final say on prosecution.
At Monday's meeting, lawmakers made yet another appeal to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has not yet made a decision to pursue the contempt charges the House set forward in December on former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
"We are upholding our responsibility," Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the committee, said in his remarks. "The Department of Justice must do the same."
The committee is investigating the circumstances surrounding Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, fuelled by his false claims of a stolen election, in hopes of blocking Congress from certifying election results showing Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump.
Ahead of the committee's vote, the panel scored a big legal victory in its quest for information from Trump lawyer John Eastman when a federal judge in California asserted Monday morning that it is "more likely than not" that Trump committed crimes in his attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election.
With that argument, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, a Clinton appointee, ordered the release of more than 100 emails from Eastman to the committee.
Charles Burnham, an attorney representing Eastman, said in a statement Monday that his client has a responsibility to his attorney-client privilege and his lawsuit against the committee "seeks to fulfill this responsibility."
Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesperson, also responded to the judge's decision, calling it an "absurd and baseless ruling by a Clinton-appointed judge in California." He called the House committee's investigation a "circus of partisanship."
The March 3 filing from the committee was its most formal effort to link the former president to a federal crime. Lawmakers do not have the power to bring criminal charges on their own and can only make a referral to the Justice Department. The department has been investigating last year's riot, but it has not given any indication that it is considering seeking charges against Trump.
The committee argued in the court documents that Trump and his associates engaged in a "criminal conspiracy" to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the Electoral College. Trump and those working with him then spread false information about the outcome of the presidential election and pressured state officials to overturn the results, potentially violating multiple federal laws, the panel said.
'A coup in search of a legal theory'
Carter, nominated to the court by former president Bill Clinton, called the actions of Trump and Eastman "a coup in search of a legal theory."
"If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the court fears January 6 will repeat itself," Carter wrote.
In a subpoena issued to Scavino last fall, the committee cited reports that he was with Trump the day before the attack during a discussion about how to persuade members of Congress not to certify the election for Biden and with Trump again the day of the attack and may have "materials relevant to his videotaping and tweeting" messages that day.
In the recent report, the committee said it also has reason to believe that due to the 46-year-old's online presence, Scavino may have had advance warning about the potential for violence on Jan. 6.
Scavino and his counsel have received at least half a dozen extensions to comply with the subpoena, according to the committee.
"Despite all these extensions, to date, Mr. Scavino has not produced a single document, nor has he appeared for testimony," the report stated.
A lawyer for Scavino did not return messages seeking comment.
It's not clear if the committee will make a criminal referral to the Justice Department when its work is complete, or if the committee will outlast the consequences of midterm elections in November, when control of the House could flip to the Republicans.
Attorney General Merrick Garland — unsurprisingly given the ramifications involving an ex-president — has not commented on whether the Justice Department is investigating Trump, who spoke to supporters not long before many of them descended on the Capitol. Garland has said the department "remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law."
The committee could also soon seek to interview conservative activist Virginia (Ginny) Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Multiple reports last week detailed text exchanges between Ginny Thomas and Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in early January 2021.
Legal troubles swirl
Trump maintains popularity within the Republican Party despite an unprecedented two impeachments in the House, including for incitement of insurrection in connection with the Jan. 6 events. After the impeachments, he was acquitted both times in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67-vote threshold, to convict.
But Trump faces a number of potential legal challenges that could prove an obstacle to plotting another run for president in 2024.
A special grand jury is being impanelled in Georgia to assess Trump's attempts to pressure officials in the state to negate Joe Biden's electoral college win there.
New York prosecutors have been probing Trump Organization financial statements for potential criminal wrongdoing and civil litigation, while last week it was ruled that Trump and his sons must sit for a deposition in relation to their promotion on Celebrity Apprentice of a marketing company that is alleged to have been a pyramid scheme.
There is also civil litigation with his niece, Mary Trump, who wrote a book critical of Trump, as well as an ongoing defamation suit stemming from a writer's allegation that Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.
Trump politically has previously survived allegations of sexual assault during the 2016 campaign and damning court-ordered dissolutions of Trump University, a real estate program and his charitable organization, the Trump Foundation.
- A previous version of this story said that after former U.S. president Donald Trump was impeached twice in the House of Representatives, he was acquitted both times in the Senate, which requires a 60-vote threshold to convict. In fact, a two-thirds majority, or 67-vote threshold, is needed in the Senate to convict.Mar 28, 2022 2:52 PM ET
With files from CBC News