The Justice Department on Wednesday sued former Donald Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro in an effort to force him to turn over emails from his tenure in the White House.
Navarro, who worked for the White House during the entirety of Trump’s presidency, had used “at least one non-official email account … to send and receive messages constituting Presidential records,” the Justice Department said in a court filing. Attorneys also accused him of “wrongfully retaining them” in violation of federal record-keeping laws, as Navarro did not copy the messages into an official government account, nor did he respond to the National Archivist’s initial request for the emails.
The Justice Department approached Navarro about producing the missing emails, but he refused to return records “absent a grant of immunity for the act of returning such documents,” the department said.
The National Archives first became aware of Navarro’s use of a personal email account last year, according to the filing, after the House select panel investigating the coronavirus pandemic obtained emails showing Navarro used the ProtonMail account for official White House activities.
The civil lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton.
It’s a separate case from Navarro’s indictment for contempt of Congress, which the Justice Department is also handling. The Jan. 6 select committee subpoenaed him for documents and testimony in February, but he refused to comply with their summons, prompting the panel to ask the Justice Department to pursue charges against him. Navarro has also acknowledged receiving a federal grand jury subpoena related to Jan. 6.
In a statement, Navarro’s attorneys, John Irving and John Rowley, denied withholding documents from the government.
“As detailed in our recent letter to the Archives, Mr. Navarro instructed his lawyers to preserve all such records, and he expects the government to follow standard processes in good faith to allow him to produce records,” Navarro’s lawyers said. “Instead, the government chose to file its lawsuit today.”
The letter cited by Navarro’s lawyers had asked for immunity “in advance of any production of materials responsive to your request.”
The lawsuit comes as top Trump officials have drawn increased scrutiny for their failures to properly preserve documents and messages. Navarro was not the only Trump administration official who used personal accounts to conduct official business — in a Monday letter to the department’s watchdog, congressional investigators highlighted one of Trump’s top Department of Homeland Security officials, Ken Cuccinelli, for his use of a personal phone for government business and failure to preserve messages.