“Navarro Cannot Do So” – Mar-a-Lago Judge Eyes Navarro’s Document Turnover Amid Trump’s PRA Battle

by Jessica
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As U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon oversees Donald Trump’s classified documents trial in Florida, a recent ruling from an appeals court in Washington, D.C., involving Trump’s former advisor, Peter Navarro, who is currently imprisoned, may be of interest.

According to a report by Law and Crime on Monday, April 1, 2024, the ruling, a 4-page per curiam judgment from the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, upholds a lower court’s decision that Navarro cannot argue he was allowed to disregard rules for the return of documents.

The Presidential Records Act (PRA) dictates how these documents should be handled, and Navarro’s argument to continue the case was dismissed.

The documents in question are linked to a ProtonMail account Navarro used while advising at the Trump White House.

Under the PRA, Navarro was considered a “covered” employee, which means he was prohibited from creating presidential records using nonofficial means.

This includes sending, receiving, forwarding, or otherwise creating such records.

The only exception would be if he sent an unofficial message and copied his official account or another official no later than 20 days later, and then returned the records at the end of his tenure.

In February, while Navarro was already serving a prison sentence for a separate contempt matter related to his refusal to comply with the Jan. 6 committee’s request for records, a judge threatened to hold him in contempt of court if he did not provide a sampling of records he claimed were privileged under the PRA.

As Law & Crime previously reported, some of these records were related to the 2020 election and Navarro’s promotion of baseless claims of election fraud.

While the opinion released Monday is concise, it outlines that from 2017 to 2021, Navarro transmitted at least one message through an unofficial account that was subsequently deemed a presidential record by a lower court.

Contrary to legal requirements, he failed to copy these messages to any official accounts.

By 2021, when the Archivist of the United States requested records associated with the account, Navarro did not respond.

A back-and-forth ensued between Navarro and prosecutors at the Archives and Justice Department for approximately a year.

Eventually, through his attorney, Navarro stated that within the parameters set by the Archives for the “presidential records,” he produced approximately “200 to 250” documents out of 1,700 that met the criteria outlined by the PRA.

However, Navarro persisted in his refusal to comply with the records request unless he received assurances that they would not be used against him in his separate contempt of Congress case.

Navarro’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim was denied, and he also lost an emergency motion for stay pending appeal.

As he serves a four-month prison sentence for two counts of contempt of Congress, this matter will also continue to be unresolved for him.

“The district court proceeded to oversee the production of relevant documents, which remains ongoing and disputed,” they wrote.

Navarro defended himself by arguing that the government’s use of the District of Columbia’s replevin statutes, which govern the reclamation of property, was improper because “the PRA itself has no express cause of actions for the United States to seek the return of the Presidential records.”

However, the court noted that this argument was untimely.

Additionally, Navarro’s claim that the government’s only recourse for document violations is to fire or discipline current employees who violate preservation rules was deemed without merit.

For Navarro’s argument to succeed, he would have to demonstrate that the PRA completely bypasses the federal government’s broader authority to pursue basic legal remedies for itself.

“Navarro cannot do so,” the per curiam order states.

An attorney representing Navarro did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Regarding Trump, the order notes that “the PRA does not explicitly address whether and how the United States may seek return of Presidential records.”

Trump and his legal team have argued extensively in his classified documents case in Florida that the PRA allows him to retain records, regardless of their classification or sensitivity, at his Mar-a-Lago property as long as he claims them as his personal property.

This vague yet de facto reclamation of records is just one argument Trump has sought to advance as he attempts to dismiss his indictment there, despite the absence of any language in the PRA granting such authority.

The PRA was enacted after the Watergate scanddal with the specific aim of limiting how presidents could maintain publicly owned records in confidence.

In March, as Law & Crime reported, Cannon surprised legal analysts by including language in potential jury instructions suggesting that the PRA allowed Trump to treat classified documents as his personal property.

A trial date in Florida has not been scheduled yet. Special counsel Jack Smith can only seek to appeal the jury instructions set by Cannon once they are officially issued.

Cannon has faced criticism for her decisions in the Florida case before and there may be calls for her removal from the case.

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