Thompson & Cheney Opening Statements at Select Committee Business Meeting

Mar 28, 2022

- As Delivered -

Washington—Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) this evening delivered the following statements at a business meeting during which the Select Committee adopted a report recommending that the House of Representatives cite Daniel Scavino, Jr. and Peter Navarro for criminal contempt of Congress:

Chairman Thompson: “I’ll now recognize myself for an opening statement.

“This evening, the Select Committee is required to consider two more citations for criminal contempt of Congress for Daniel Scavino, Jr. and Peter Navarro.

“Before I get started, I do want to comment quickly on the ruling today in John Eastman’s lawsuit to stop the Select Committee from obtaining certain records. As the Vice Chair and I said in our statement earlier today, this ruling is a clear victory for the rule of law. I encourage people at home to read what Judge Carter wrote and consider his words very carefully. His warnings about the ongoing threat to American democracy should alarm every person in this country.

“I want to read a short excerpt from Judge Carter’s ruling:

Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history. Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower—it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attack on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the death of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.  More than a year after the attack on our Capitol, the public is still searching for accountability.

“I’m proud to say that this committee is helping to lead that search for accountability. It is why we are here tonight. So let’s turn to Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro.

“There aren’t—these aren’t household names and my colleagues will share some details about who they are and why they are so important to our investigation. In short: these two men played a key role in the ex-President’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The Select Committee subpoenaed them for records and testimony to learn more about their roles and what they knew.

“In Mr. Scavino’s case, he strung us along for months before making it clear that he believes he’s above the law. Mr. Navarro, despite sharing relevant details on TV and podcasts and in his own book, he also stonewalled us.

“The contempt report published last night gets into the weeds on this, but broadly, Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro are making similar excuses. They’re claiming that the information we want from them is shielded by executive privilege.

“To remind everyone, executive privilege is a power of the President to make sure official, sensitive information and conversations stay private. It’s a privilege used to protect the presidency and our national security. This usually involves a President and that President’s closest advisors—cabinet secretaries, top aides. In the lead-up to January 6th, Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro were both government employees. They worked in the White House. They drew salaries paid by the taxpayers. They had conversations with the ex-President. So now they are saying they won’t answer any of our questions because of executive privilege.

“There are a couple big problems with their argument.

“First, generally speaking, executive privilege doesn’t belong to just any White House official. It belongs to the president. Here, President Biden has been clear that executive privilege does not prevent cooperation with the Select Committee by either Mr. Scavino or Mr. Navarro.  And while the ex-president reportedly has raised privilege concerns when it comes to Mr. Scavino, in Mr. Navarro’s case, nobody has even tried to invoke privilege except Mr. Navarro himself. That’s just not the way it works. Peter Navarro isn’t President.

“It’s important to note that even if a President has formally invoked executive privilege regarding testimony of a witness—which is not the case here—that witness has the obligation to sit down under oath and assert the privilege question by question. But these witnesses didn’t even bother to show up.

“Second, if the ex-President had a legitimate claim to executive privilege, this is a privilege that applies to things that happened in an official capacity. So if Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro are claiming that they all that they that all the information they have is protected by executive privilege, they’re basically saying that everything they did, they did in their official roles. Paid by taxpayers.

“As I said before, we want to talk to Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro about their roles in the attempt to overturn an election. The American people didn’t pay their salaries to do that.

“Now, there are a lot of laws that set out what government officials aren’t allowed to do when they are on the clock or using government resources. It’s important that taxpayer dollars don’t support political activity, and there are a few bright lines about every specific situation.

“I can’t sit in my office on Capitol Hill and make fundraising calls. Every staff member has to take an ethics training every year to remind them of what’s in and out of bounds. I don’t mean to make light of it, but just for the record and for those watching at home, trying to overturn an election is out of bounds. Way out of bounds.

“Yet, Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro say they won’t talk about the causes of January 6th because they were White House officials at the time, engaged in official business, and so executive privilege stands in the way. They potentially played a part in an attack on American democracy, but they can ignore our, but they can ignore our investigation because they worked for the government at the time. That’s their argument.

“They’re not fooling anybody. They are obligated to comply with our investigation. They have refused to do so. And that’s a crime.

“Our investigation aims to give the American people a lot of answers about a great many matters. But I think we will also leave you with some unanswered questions to consider for yourselves. Questions about the sort of people who deserve the power and responsibility of positions of public trust.

“For a great many of us, it means something profound when we raise our hands and swear an oath. We haven’t finished the work of our investigation, but I can say confidently that the many involved in the run-up to January 6th, an oath—a statement of fidelity to our democracy—was nothing more to them than meaningless words. I fear what happens if those people are again given the reins of power.

“These men, Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro, are in contempt of Congress. I encourage my colleagues to support adoption of this report. I’m confident the House will adopt the resolution citing them for this crime. And I hope the Justice Department will move swiftly to hold them accountable.

“I’m pleased now to recognize my friend, the gentlewoman from Wyoming, Ms. Cheney, for any remarks she’d care to offer.”

* * *

Vice Chair Cheney: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

“We are entering a critical stage of our investigation. We’ve now taken the testimony of hundreds of witnesses with knowledge of the events of January 6th, including more than a dozen former Trump White House staff members.

“We’ve learned that President Trump and his team were warned, in advance and repeatedly, that the efforts they undertook to overturn the 2020 election would violate the law and our Constitution. They were warned that January 6th could, and likely would, turn violent. And they were told repeatedly, by our state and federal courts, by our Justice Department, and by agencies of our Intelligence Community, that the allegations of widespread fraud sufficient to overturn the election were false and were unsupported by the evidence.

“And yet, despite all of these specific warnings, President Trump and his team moved willfully, through multiple means, to attempt to halt the peaceful transfer of power, to halt our constitutional process for counting votes, and to shatter the constitutional bedrock of our great nation. As a federal judge concluded today: ‘The illegality of [President Trump’s] plan for January 6th was “obvious.”’

“Today, as the Chairman noted, we address two specific witnesses who have refused to appear for testimony.   

“Mr. Scavino worked directly with President Trump to spread President Trump’s false message that the election was stolen, and to recruit Americans to come to Washington with the false promise that January 6th would be an opportunity to ‘take back their country.’

“This effort to deceive was widely effective and widely destructive. The Committee has many questions for Mr. Scavino about his political social media work for President Trump, including his interactions with an online forum called “The Donald” and with QAnon, a bizarre and dangerous cult.

“President Trump, working with Mr. Scavino, successfully spread distrust for our courts—which had repeatedly found no basis to overturn the election. And Trump’s stolen election campaign succeeded in provoking the violence on January 6th. On this point, there is no doubt—the committee has videos, interviews, and sworn statements from violent rioters demonstrating these facts.

“Mr. Navarro is also a key witness. He’s written a book boasting about his role in planning and coordinating the activity of January 6th, and yet, he does not have the courage to testify here. We have many questions for Mr. Navarro—including about his communications with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon regarding the planning for January 6th.

“As Judge Carter concluded today: ‘Based on the evidence, the court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.’

“Our Committee will continue to litigate to obtain the testimony we need. We’ve already defeated President Trump’s effort to hide certain White House records behind a shield of Executive Privilege. As the court said today—not today, but as the court said in that case: ‘Under any of the tests advocated by former President Trump, the profound interests in disclosure advanced by President Biden and the January 6th Committee far exceed his generalized concerns for Executive Branch confidentiality.’ That same conclusion should apply to Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro.

“Let me pause for a moment on one specific legal point. Like Mr. Meadows, Mr. Navarro insists that he is above the law and is categorically and absolutely immune from any congressional subpoena regarding January 6th. We are aware of no court, anywhere in America, that has ever agreed with this proposition.

“To the extent that Mr. Navarro and Mr. Meadows are attempting to rely upon memoranda from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, those memoranda explicitly do not apply here. In this context, Mr. Navarro was not acting as a White House aide advising the president on official matters of policy.

“He was acting as a Trump campaign operative planning a political effort to obstruct or impede Congress’s constitutional proceeding to count electoral votes. The Department of Justice is entrusted with the defense of our Constitution. Department leadership should not apply any doctrine of immunity that might block Congress from fully uncovering and addressing the causes of the January 6th attack.

“Congress is a separate and co-equal branch of government. It must have the authority and the ability to protect its independence and safeguard the constitutional separation of powers.

“In the coming months, our Committee will convene a series of hearings. The American people will hear from our fellow citizens who demonstrated fidelity to our Constitution and the rule of law – and who refused to bow to President Trump’s pressure. The Committee has heard from many of these individuals, including:

  • Republicans appointed by President Trump to posts in the Department of Justice, Republicans who stood firm, who threatened to resign, and refused to participate in efforts to corrupt the Department with the “stolen election” lies that led to January 6th.
     
  • We’ve heard from leading Republicans serving in state legislatures, and in state and local government; who also stood firm, who resisted pressure from the former president, and did their constitutional duty.
     
  • And we have heard from Republicans who were serving in the Trump White House, including those who warned in advance that the president’s plans were unlawful, and those who tried to intervene with the president to get him to halt the violence when it erupted on January 6th.

“In a time when many Republican Members of Congress have abandoned their obligation to our Constitution and are putting politics above duty, each of the individuals I just mentioned has, by contrast, demonstrated a firm and unwavering commitment to this nation, and to our constitutional Republic.

“Each has done what is right, despite tremendous personal, political, and professional cost.  Each is a model for the American people of the kind of public servants this nation needs – men and women who know our institutions don’t defend themselves and who recognize the obligation that comes from holding positions of public trust. 

“As we meet here tonight, Vladimir Putin continues his brutality against Ukraine, killing innocents, reminding us what happens when authoritarians rule. And each day, we see footage of the unyielding courage of the Ukrainian people, who are fighting and dying to defend their freedom.

“Their bravery reminds us that democracy is fragile. Democracy only survives if citizens are willing to defend it. We live in the greatest constitutional Republic in history. No citizen in our Republic can be a bystander. If we don’t stand for our freedom and our Republic, we will lose them. In his ruling today, Judge Carter put it this way:

“If ‘President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6th will repeat itself.’

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”

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