Trump ally Peter Navarro begins prison term after contempt conviction

<span>Peter Navarro speaks to the press at the Country Mall Plaza before reporting to the federal prison in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday.</span><span>Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images</span>
Peter Navarro speaks to the press at the Country Mall Plaza before reporting to the federal prison in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday.Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Peter Navarro, a former trade adviser to Donald Trump, on Tuesday became the first former White House official ever jailed for contempt of Congress.

Sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to cooperate with the House January 6 committee, the 74-year-old economist appealed all the way to the US supreme court, claiming he could not testify as his work with Trump on attempts to overturn the 2020 election was covered by executive privilege.

His appeals unsuccessful – including a rejection by John Roberts, the chief justice of the US supreme court – Navarro reported to a minimum-security federal facility in Miami.

Speaking to reporters at a strip mall across the street from the prison, Navarro continued to insist he should not be jailed.

“This is not about me,” he said, claiming “an unprecedented assault on the constitutional separation of powers and the doctrine of executive privilege as a critical tool dating back to George Washington for effective presidential decision making”.

“When I walk in that prison today,” he said, “the justice system, such as it is, will have done a crippling blow to the constitutional separation of powers and executive privilege.”

Navarro also broadcast his message straight to Trump’s supporters, telling Donald Trump Jr on Rumble, a rightwing social media platform: “Men and women of America, throughout our history, have shed blood, lost their lives, for the defence of this country, defence of what we stand for, defence of our values, defence of our constitution.

“And for me it’s a much smaller sacrifice to be willing to go to prison … to defend what is really one of the most important principles of the constitution, which is the constitutional separation of powers.”

But Navarro’s contention, that he did not have to cooperate with Congress because of executive privilege, has been rejected at every step of his case.

Nor is he the only former Trump adviser convicted in relation to defiance of investigations of attempted election subversion. Steve Bannon, formerly Trump’s chief White House strategist, is appealing a four-month sentence of his own for defying the House committee.

Trump himself faces 88 criminal charges, 14 related to election subversion, while struggling to pay multimillion-dollar civil penalties. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he is pursuing delaying tactics including claiming total immunity for acts committed in office.

It may prove small consolation for Navarro, but after numerous failed attempts to attain elected office, he has in recent years made a name for himself.

In a Trump White House riddled by infighting, Navarro proved a particularly controversial presence, particularly during the Covid pandemic. Then, after Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, Navarro boasted of his involvement in attempts to overturn that result, in part via a plan he called the “Green Bay Sweep”.

That drew the attention of the January 6 committee, which investigated the attack on Congress by Trump’s supporters. Navarro’s refusal to cooperate did not pay off, however. At sentencing in January, a judge told him: “You are not a victim, you are not the object of a political prosecution. These are circumstances of your own making.”

Also of Navarro’s own making, memorably, were quotes in his academic work attributed to an economics expert called Ron Vara – an anagram of Navarro.

Still, by reporting to prison on Tuesday, Navarro was at least set to lay claim to a place in US political history.

Sam Mangel, a prison consultant working with Navarro, told CNN the federal satellite camp was next to a zoo.

“Not only can you hear the lions,” Mangel said, “you can hear the lions roar every morning.”

The New York Times has described prison consultants as a “fixers … teaching convicts how to reduce their sentence, get placed in a better facility – and make the most of their months behind bars”.

Navarro was “nervous”, Mangel said, adding: “Anybody, regardless of the length of their sentence, is going into an unknown world.”