Former Trump administration official Peter Navarro faces yet another difficult legal battle after he repeatedly ignored federal demands to formally turn over emails sent from a personal account because prosecutors would not guarantee him immunity, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday .
Navarro started working in the Trump White House on the first day of the former president’s term and stayed until the last. He spent the first months of 2017 as deputy assistant to the president and director of the National Trade Council, then was named director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. In March 2020, Trump directed Navarro to coordinate the federal government’s use of the Defense Production Act to respond to the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Under the Presidential Records Act (PRA), Navarro and all other similarly situated officials are required to preserve all official communications, which are considered the property of the United States, explains the 52-page lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice.
But Justice Department lawyers say Navarro did not respond to requests for the material from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at the end of Trump’s term last year, and that the Justice Department asked Navarro for the communications again to authorities. of the summer “in an effort to avoid disputes”.
“Discussions with Mr. Navarro’s counsel to secure the return of the presidential records ultimately proved unsuccessful,” the filing states. “Mr. Navarro refused to return any presidential records he retained in the absence of a grant of immunity for the act of returning such documents.”
Reached by phone shortly after the treasury suit was filed, Navarro—who pleaded not guilty in June in a contempt of Congress charge of ignoring subpoena from House investigating the Capitol uprising — said he didn’t know he was still facing a legal battle until contacted by The Daily Beast.
“I would have to look at the suit first,” Navarro said when asked for comment. “When was it filed?”
During Navarro’s tenure in the Trump administration, he “used at least one unofficial email account — one hosted by the unofficial ProtonMail service — to send and receive messages that constitute presidential records,” the government’s lawsuit states.
“After the end of the Trump Administration, the Archivist, through NARA’s General Counsel, attempted to contact Mr. Navarro to secure the presidential records that Mr. Navarro had not copied to his government email account,” it continues. “Mr. Navarro did not respond to NARA’s communications.”
In June, an attorney hired by Navarro contacted the Justice Department to say an outside firm would conduct an audit of documents to identify which ones fell under the PRA, the filing states.
In the following weeks, Navarro’s attorney provided “periodic updates” on the effort.
“To assist and expedite the investigation, on July 18, 2022, NARA’s General Counsel provided Mr. Navarro’s counsel with a list of search terms,” the lawsuit states. “NARA has asked Mr. Navarro to prioritize the return of any PRA records that meet these search terms.”
Four days later, Navarro’s attorney told the Justice Department that they had found more than 1,700 documents based on the priority search parameters, and that of those, about 200 to 250 of them were presidential records.
But on July 29, Navarro’s lawyer sent a letter to the Justice Department saying Navarro was refusing to provide any of the emails without being granted full immunity for anything inside.
“Mr. Navarro is wrongfully withholding presidential records that are the property of the United States and which are part of the permanent historical record of the previous administration,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Navarro’s illegal retention of presidential records violates District of Columbia law, federal common law, and the PRA.”
Navarro’s use of private email, after his one-time boss won the presidency in large part by criticizing Hillary Clinton for doing the same, first came to light last fall when The Parliament’s Subcommittee on the Corona Crisis said so “She obtained copies of emails from people other than Mr. Navarro as part of her investigation into the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
In a letter of September 14;subcommittee chairman Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) told Navarro that he and his colleagues were investigating “the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and the haphazard efforts to obtain critical supplies.”
“As detailed in the information released by the Select Subcommittee on March 30, 2021, you were intimately involved in these mismanaged efforts,” the letter states, noting Navarro’s alleged use of “private, encrypted email accounts to conduct White House business ».
The administration wants the emails to get to the bottom of “disturbing questions about whether you and other Trump administration officials tried to hide information about the federal response to the coronavirus crisis from public view,” the letter continues. “This conduct impedes the American people’s ability to understand the failures that contributed to the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives and may violate federal law requiring the preservation of presidential records.”
With Wednesday’s lawsuit, the feds will now try to get away with what Navarro has so far failed to deliver. Specifically, the filing alleges that Navarro “wrongfully retained property of the United States in the form of presidential records.”
“Under federal common law, any presidential records Mr. Navarro maintains should be removed from him and turned over to the United States,” it concludes, “and the United States should receive restitution in an amount to be determined at trial.” .