Jun 7, 2022

The Peter Navarro indictment.

The Peter Navarro indictment.

Plus, a question about anonymity online.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The Peter Navarro indictment. Plus, a question about anonymity online.

Former Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro. U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers
Former Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro. U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers

Quick hits.

  1. President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to boost supplies of solar panel parts. He also suspended tariffs on panels imported from Southeast Asia. (The decision)
  2. Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, the longtime leader of the Proud Boys, was indicted along with four top lieutenants for seditious conspiracy related to their actions leading up to and on Jan. 6. (The indictment)
  3. Elon Musk accused Twitter of breaching an agreement on their acquisition by not handing over data on spam accounts, putting Musk's purchase of the company in jeopardy. (The questions)
  4. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a no-confidence vote 211-148 yesterday to remain in power. (The vote)
  5. Seven states hold primaries today: California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. (The primaries)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

Peter Navarro. On Friday, Navarro, a White House adviser to former President Donald Trump, was indicted by a grand jury after failing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the riot at the Capitol on January 6. The Justice Department declined to charge Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino Jr., two other top Trump officials who refused to cooperate, but indicted Navarro.

Navarro has remained a staunch proponent of "stolen election" theories, and is the first White House official who served under Trump during the events of Jan. 6 to be charged in connection with the investigation into the attack, according to The Times. He was charged with two counts of criminal contempt for failing to appear for a deposition or provide documents to the committee; each count carries a maximum sentence of a $100,000 fine and one year in prison.

The Jan. 6 committee praised the indictment, though they questioned why the Justice Department didn't charge other Trump aides who refused to comply with subpoenas.

“We find the decision to reward Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino for their continued attack on the rule of law puzzling,” Representatives Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) said. “Mr. Meadows and Mr. Scavino unquestionably have relevant knowledge about President Trump’s role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the events of Jan. 6.”

Navarro, like other former Trump aides, has claimed that he cannot comply with a subpoena because Trump has invoked executive privilege to bar the release of information the committee wants. “The executive privilege invoked by President Trump is not mine to waive,” Mr. Navarro has said publicly.

Navarro has also filed a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the U.S. attorney in Washington, Matthew M. Graves, alleging that the House committee is unlawful and the subpoena unenforceable.

On Thursday night, the House committee leading the investigation into Jan. 6  — which is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans — will hold primetime hearings where they will attempt to present the American public with evidence on how the day unfolded and who is responsible. The committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and received more than 140,000 documents in 11 months. It also hired former ABC News president James Goldston as an advisor to help it present the evidence to the public.

You can read our previous coverage of Mark Meadows being held in contempt here, and the January 6 investigations here and here.

Below, you’ll see some responses from the right and the left, and then my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The right has argued that the arrest was excessive and theatrical.
  • Some have criticized the Justice Department for being partisan.
  • Others have said Congress is headed for mutually assured destruction.

In National Review, Andrew McCarthy said "the ratings battle has begun" for the January 6 committee.

"Make no mistake: This is hardball," McCarthy wrote. "The contempt charges are highly unusual, non-violent, and comparatively minor (one-year maximum sentences). When DOJ indicted Trump adviser Steve Bannon on contempt-of-Congress charges, Bannon was not arrested; he was permitted to surrender through the usual agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers for an accused who poses no threat of violence or flight. Yet the 72-year-old Navarro was not given that option, even though he says he has been in communication with federal prosecutors and agents — evidently in connection with a lawsuit Navarro is poised to file against the January 6 committee.

"Attorney General Merrick Garland’s DOJ had the FBI slap handcuffs and (Navarro says) leg-irons on him, hauling him into custody as he was about to board a flight to Nashville — not to go on the lam, but to do more media appearances ripping the committee and the Biden administration," McCarthy said. "Remember, this is a Justice Department that is turning a blind eye to blatant violations of federal criminal law by pro-abortion activists who have demonstrated at the homes of Supreme Court justices. The demonstrators have no defense. But because they are protesting in furtherance of a political cause the Biden administration favors, the Justice Department is pretending that nothing can be done since the demonstrations are non-violent (so far)."

The New York Post editorial board called it "another partisan move" from the Justice Department.

"Former Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro was cuffed and dragged into custody Friday. For no reason: the 72-year-old said he would have voluntarily surrendered over his contempt of Congress charges relating to his refusal to work with the Jan. 6 Committee and noted he was given no warning that he was going to be arrested," the editors wrote. "The man has no history of violence and zero flight risk. And the judge in his case released him on his own recognizance — an admission that no one really thinks Navarro is going anywhere. Defendants in similar situations are nearly always given the opportunity to surrender.

"Instead the feds pulled Navarro off a plane at a Nashville airport as he was off to a TV appearance," they added. "This is pure, ugly politics. The Justice Department and the Jan. 6 committee are coming down hard on Navarro for being a Donald Trump ally, nothing else. It’s a naked effort to drum up publicity, outrage and media interest for next week’s hearings over just how involved the ex-prez and various other officials were with the Capitol riots. Making a show of force against an aging trade expert as though he were a fleeing drug kingpin doesn’t serve justice. It only serves the nakedly partisan aims of the Democrats who control Congress and the Justice Department."

Jonathan Turley said Washington is on the route to "mutually assured destruction."

"In the buildup to next week’s start of public hearings by the House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 investigative committee, Democrats have subpoenaed Republican colleagues and held former Trump officials in contempt," Turley wrote. "Then, instead of simply arranging for Navarro to voluntarily surrender, the Justice Department made a dramatic public arrest of him at an airport and dragged him off to jail in handcuffs. These subpoena fights seem to be unfolding with little consideration given to the potential costs, either for Washington institutions or the individuals involved.

"Despite years of bitter political divisions, the two parties have long avoided using subpoenas against each other," he added. "It was viewed as a step toward mutually assured destruction if House members unleashed inherent investigatory powers on each other. House Democratic leaders, however, shattered that long tradition of restraint despite the fact that they may gain little from the effort. What they will lose is a long-standing detente on the use of subpoenas against colleagues — and they are creating a new precedent for such internal subpoenas just months before they could find themselves in the minority. Today’s hunters then could become the hunted, if Republicans claim the same license after November’s elections. The House already is a dysfunctional body that allows for little compromise or dialogue between parties. The targeting of fellow members now will remove one of the few remaining restraints on unbridled partisan rage."


What the left is saying.

  • The left says the arrest was well justified.
  • Some claim the Jan. 6 committee is getting closer to Trump.
  • Many believe Navarro has a lot to offer the investigators.

In The Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote about what Peter Navarro may have to offer investigators.

"People often forget that Trump’s infamous effort to cajole supporters to show up in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021 — 'be there, will be wild!' — was not a stand-alone imperative. It was, instead, the conclusion to a tweet that began with his promotion of a 30-plus page document written by Navarro that purported to show how the election had been stolen," Bump wrote. "At the time, I described that report succinctly (and I believe accurately) as perhaps being 'the most embarrassing document created by a White House staffer.'... This is useful context for the revelation Monday that Navarro was subpoenaed to provide testimony to a federal grand jury in Washington.

"We do understand that the Justice Department has been working to build a criminal case against someone that necessitates testimony from aides and attorneys who were involved in Trump’s post-election efforts," Bump said. "Attorney General Merrick Garland has been criticized from the left for not having announced any charges, criticism that often fails to appreciate 1) what’s been done and 2) the diverging natures of quiet criminal investigations and loud political ones... Navarro states flatly, for example, that what he sought from Jan. 6 'was to delay certification of the election for at least another several weeks' so that Congress and legislative bodies could probe the 'fraud and election irregularities' that were revealed during the counting of electoral votes. To an outside observer, this perhaps sounds sensible — except that the election had been certified in each state weeks earlier and that there were no 'fraud and irregularities' raised during the process that had not already been dismissed as irrelevant."

In Slate, Dennis Aftergut said Trump's very bad summer "is about to get much worse."

"Why was May so bad for Trump?" Aftergut said. "It’s not just a matter of investigators closing in. Georgia’s primary on May 24 delivered a blow to Trump. Three men the former president loves to hate—Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Attorney General Chris Carr—all defeated Trump’s candidates in the Republican primary. Trump is already trying to cast doubt on their election results, raising questions about Kemp’s 50-point win over David Perdue. Georgia voters, however, signaled they are ready to move on from the Big Lie.

"As for the Justice Department, it is reportedly ramping up its inquiry into Trump’s circle and the fake elector scheme that Rudy Giuliani allegedly led for the Trump campaign," he wrote. "On May 31, the Guardian reported that DOJ’s May 26 subpoena to former Trump aide Peter Navarro specifically refers to Trump and seeks communications with him, hinting at tightening scrutiny for the former president. (On June 2, the DOJ indicted Navarro on two counts of contempt for defying the committee’s subpoena to testify and provide documents.)... Trump’s actions supporting violence that day and his inaction for three hours permitting the insurrection to continue demonstrate the lengths to which he would go to advance the alleged criminal conspiracy’s monthslong goal: to intimidate Pence and Congress into rejecting or delaying certification of Joe Biden’s election victory."

In Vox, Ian Millhiser said Merrick Garland can prosecute Peter Navarro, and he should.

"Navarro is openly hoping that his status as a former consigliere to a sitting president will rescue him from contempt charges. The subpoena, he misleadingly claimed, is 'predicated on the ridiculous legal premise that Joe Biden can waive Donald Trump’s Executive Privilege,' before predicting that 'the Supreme Court will say otherwise when the time comes.' There are several reasons to doubt that Navarro’s prediction will prove accurate," Millhiser wrote. "While the GOP-controlled Supreme Court was quite protective of Trump while the former president was in office, effectively thwarting a House-led investigation that sought his financial records until after Trump left office, the Court broke with Trump in a January 6-related case after he left office.

"Navarro is also wrong that President Biden’s views are irrelevant to whether Navarro can hide behind executive privilege," he added. "Though the Supreme Court held in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services (GSA) (1977) that this privilege 'survives the individual President’s tenure,' the GSA case also held that a former president’s power to keep their staff’s deliberations secret is much less potent than a sitting president’s power to do so... On top of these two problems for Navarro, it’s far from clear that Navarro’s actions are even covered by the executive privilege. Though communications between a president and their top aides are often privileged, according to a federal appeals court, that privilege only applies to communications concerning 'official government matters.' Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election fall outside of a president’s official duties."


My take.

I haven't been shy about my feelings on Jan. 6 or this committee.

I believe the events of that day will be a stain on Trump's legacy forever, and I support thorough investigations into everything that led up to the riot at the Capitol and the attempts to halt the election certification. That is because I want a better understanding of how coordinated the day was, who made up the crowd of rioters, whether they were let in or even incited by law enforcement, if any members of Congress knew what was coming, how the president reacted, why the law enforcement response failed, what happened to the explosive devices that were found that day, and much more.

Nothing is black and white, and while I think there are problems with the committee — the theatrics, the mostly partisan makeup, the expansion of federal policing it sometimes represents — I also think the committee is a much smaller issue than the group of people who tried to stop the certification of an election whose results had already been certified by the states.

I don't know Peter Navarro personally. I was once scheduled to go on a radio show with him to discuss his claims of election fraud, but the show never panned out. What I do know from watching him closely is that his allegations of fraud have changed and evolved over time, and he has seemingly abandoned his expertise as a trade advisor to go all-in on the notion that the 2020 election was stolen. I do not think he is a credible source, and I do not view his motivations as an earnest desire to "save the country" from so-called fraud and corruption. I think he is deeply loyal to former President Trump and deeply invested in "election fraud" theories because that's a good way to get attention and make money.

From what we know about Navarro and Jan. 6, he was a key player in Trump's thinking and obviously carried a great deal of weight with folks who believed they were saving the country by objecting to the election results. Trump repeatedly pushed Navarro's now-laughable 30-page PDF on purported election fraud to his millions of followers up to and on the day of Jan. 6.

All this is to say: Yes, I believe he should testify. And turn over documents. And cooperate.

Should he be handcuffed and shackled at an airport? No. Is this an obviously excessive move from the Justice Department and the committee to send a message? I think so. Will it lead to "payback" when Republicans take control of Congress? Sure, maybe, though I think that horse had already left the barn. After the endless Hillary Clinton Benghazi investigations and the double impeachment of Trump, I’m not sure either side is interested in holding back on using its investigatory powers when it has them.

The main difference between Navarro and other Trump allies, in this case, is that he is still going on TV every weekend promising to sue Democrats and trying to goad them into heavy handed moves like this. Apparently, it worked. As conservative legal expert Andrew McCarthy put it, "Navarro is a jackass, but the criminal charges smack of selective prosecution — not to mention the gratuitous manner of his arrest."

Regardless, it is important to keep the main thing the main thing. Navarro was clearly at the center of an effort to organize the halting of the election certification. He made his plans public. The idea that he had no role in this strains credulity; he did. Good money should be on the bet that he has information about that day and what led up to it that investigators don’t. He has been subpoenaed and is attempting to hide behind a thin veil of executive privilege. It almost certainly will not work. He didn't need to be arrested, but the indictment was worthy, and he does need to testify.

In December of 2021, this is how I closed a similar piece on Mark Meadows. Nearly all of it applies to Navarro, too:

Do I want answers about potential FBI involvement in the riots? Or the "pipe bomber" who we mysteriously have no more information on? Or whether some Capitol Police let the rioters through? Yes, yes and yes. Are some of the rioters being overcharged? Yes. Do Democrats want to make this as politically painful for Republicans as possible? Of course. Does any of that absolve Mark Meadows or mean he should be able to avoid testifying? No. Just like Bannon, his claims of executive privilege are on flimsy legal footing. And given the vital information he's already brought forward, I would love to see him answer questions before Congress.

All of this, of course, is extraordinary. And we should continue to urge the Jan. 6 committee and the Justice Department to proceed with caution and restraint. I don’t want to see an expansion of investigatory powers or anyone’s rights being violated. But more extraordinary than subpoenas for former White House officials is the very actions they are investigating — the literal attempt to halt the transfer of power — and we shouldn’t lose sight of that, either.

Simply put: Navarro’s testimony is way in bounds and well within the scope of the committee. Congress, and the country, deserve to hear it.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: What impact do you think anonymity has on allowance of free speech? In other words, how would you feel about limiting the free speech of anonymous sh*t posters because they can hide behind a made up user name, but giving people free rein of they’re willing to put their name to the comments?

— Morgan, Austin, Texas

Tangle: On the surface, I like the idea, mostly because I like the attitude of it: If you are going to say something, put your name on it. I get attacked every day by anonymous people online, and it is incredibly frustrating to engage with someone who is hiding behind a fake name and can play by different rules than I do.

But when I scratch the surface, I'm really not a fan. Anonymity can be frustrating, but it is also valuable. It often allows people to say what they are really thinking or challenge more powerful entities without fear of repercussion. Along with the "sh*t posters," I get messages from anonymous accounts or emails all the time with tips about the news, or criticism of my work, or thoughts about sensitive issues that have all been really helpful. And while it's easy to blame anonymity for provocative posts, a lot of the most provocative people online are not anonymous at all.

As a journalist especially, I like anonymity. Many of the most valuable things I've learned about politics have come from talking to people off the record or when they are anonymous. I imagine similar value comes to the surface in social media settings when anonymity is granted.

To me, the biggest thing is about how we use and frame anonymous comments. If you're operating on social media and engaging an anonymous person, I would suggest taking everything they say with a grain of salt. Similarly, if you're reading a story that carries comments from anonymous sources, you should proceed with a higher degree of skepticism. Just as often as anonymous sources are protecting their own hide, they are also using their anonymity to make themselves appear more credible or to avoid repercussions for their information being false.

All this is to say: I’m okay with anonymous people on social media and anonymous sources more broadly. I just think that anonymity needs to be taken into account when they are engaged.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

More than 250 self-declared gun enthusiasts, including conservative donors, have sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calling for bipartisan gun reform legislation. The letter, which ran as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News, endorses creating "red flag" laws, expanding background checks and raising the purchase age of a gun to 21. “Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.” The letter to Abbott has far wider implications than just Texas. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is in the center of gun reform talks in Congress, and the signers of the letter express support for proposals he is pushing at the federal level. The Texas Tribune has the story.


Numbers.

  • 2 in 10. The number of Americans who trust the government to do what is right "just about always" (2%) or "most of the time" (19%).
  • 39%. The percentage of registered voters who said the Jan. 6 committee was too focused on the past, according to a Navigator Research poll.
  • 49%. The percentage of registered voters who said the Jan. 6 committee was doing important work, according to a Navigator Research poll.
  • 35%. The percentage of Americans who said "too much attention" had been paid to the Jan. 6 riots, according to a January Pew poll.
  • 31%. The percentage of Americans who said "too little attention" had been paid to the Jan. 6 riots, according to a January Pew poll.
  • 33%. The percentage of Americans who said "the right amount of attention" had been paid to the Jan. 6 riots, according to a January Pew poll.

Have a nice day.

In Northern California, firefighters are getting some help from an unlikely sidekick: Goats. In West Sacramento, goats are being used to clear weeds, brush and high grass that can serve as fuel for forest fires. Hundreds of goats are being released to help create fire breaks, and one official said 400 goats can clear two acres in a day in areas that mowers can't even get to. Before a fire broke out last week, goats had cleared out brush around a housing complex that kept the flames from reaching any homes. Along with being effective, the goats are environmentally friendly and work cheap. ABC 13 has the story.


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