Thompson & Cheney Testimony at Rules Committee Meeting
- As Delivered -
Washington—Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) this afternoon delivered the following statements at the Rules Committee meeting on the resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find Daniel Scavino, Jr. and Peter Navarro in contempt of Congress:
Chairman Thompson: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Cole.
“It’s regrettable whenever the Select Committee needs to take the time of the Rules Committee.
“It’s regrettable because it’s a result of someone blatantly ignoring the rule of law and undermining the investigative and oversight authority of this body. Today, we’re talking about Dan Scavino, Peter Navarro—two former White House officials.
“In this case, it’s also regrettable because the situation is so clear-cut that the House should adopt the contempt resolution by unanimous consent. This distinguished committee shouldn’t have to spend an afternoon debating it. The actions of these men are so blatant and brazen that no member of this body should doubt that they are in contempt of Congress.
“Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro were two of the ex-President’s senior advisors on January 6th and in the run-up to that date. Mr. Scavino was Mr. Trump’s top communications aide. Taxpayers paid him to hold the keys to the infamous Twitter account. Mr. Navarro was a trade advisor, but whose activities swerved far outside that lane.
“Both of these men have refused to comply with the Select Committee’s subpoena in any way, based on assertions of executive privilege.
“First of all, the Select Committee wanted to ask both of them questions dealing with matters that clearly fall outside any possible claim of executive privilege. To put it plainly, they were both involved in efforts to challenge or overturn the election. Last I checked, a president’s attempt to stay in power after the people voted him out of office aren’t the sort of things where executive privilege applies.
“Secondly, and here’s where it gets a little more complicated, neither of these witnesses has properly asserted a claim of privilege. That’s lawyer talk, so let me put it more plainly: if you’re a witness in some sort of legal proceedings—it may be a criminal investigation, it may be a civil lawsuit, it may be a congressional probe—you may get a subpoena—an order telling you to show up at such a place and such a time to answer questions. You have to show up. That’s the law.
“Now, when you show up, there are a few reasons why you may not have to answer questions.
“Witnesses have the prerogative to raise constitutional rights in response to congressional inquiries. For example, we all know the phrase, “Pleading the Fifth.” That means someone refuses to answer a question because to answer may subject them to criminal prosecution. The Constitution protects us from answering questions like that.
“And then there’s executive privilege, what makes sure a President’s sensitive conversations about official government business stay confidential—unless outweighed by congressional investigative needs.
“These are important privileges. Witnesses have the right to assert them. And the Select Committee respects that. We follow the Rules of the House. The rules lay out procedures for considering lawful assertions of these privileges.
“But here’s the thing: if you want the protection of any of these privileges, you have to show up and explain why.
“We have had plenty of witnesses who fall into that category. We’ve had witnesses who have shown up and, to every question, claimed their constitutional Fifth Amendment rights… asserting that their answers might subject them to criminal prosecution. The Select Committee respects those claims. At this point, none of the witnesses who have done that are facing any criminal contempt citation by the House.
“I think we’ll hear a lot of attempts to muddy the waters about privilege claims, especially when it comes to Mr. Scavino: that’s his lawyer tried and tried to negotiate with the committee, that he wanted to find a way to come in, but he had such grave concerns and reverence for the institution of the presidency.
“At this point in our investigation, there’s a mounting body of legal rulings rejecting the ex-President’s claim of executive privilege. That makes Mr. Scavino’s claim thin to begin with. Mr. Navarro are even thinner, as he has produced no evidence that the former President has even attempted to invoke executive privilege about anything related to his former trade advisor – either directly or indirectly.
“And the current President has stated clearly that he is not asserting the privilege for either witness with respect to subjects under investigation by the Select Committee.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro persist in clinging to a flimsy shield. Fine. If you want to make those claims, come in, take an oath, take a seat, and make those claims on the record on a question-by-question basis. But since they won’t explain it to us, they will need to be accountable to a federal judge instead.
“Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro have a legal obligation to comply with the congressional subpoenas issued by the Select Committee. Instead, they’re acting like they believe they are above the law.
“If we fail to cite them for contempt, we weaken this institution, not just today, but a month from now, a year from now, and going forward. All members should keep that in mind as you consider this resolution.
“I ask respectfully that you bring this measure to the floor swiftly for the House’s consideration.
“I thank you and yield back.”
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Vice Chair Cheney: “Thank you very much, Chairman McGovern. Thank you, Chairman Thompson. Ranking Member Cole, thank you very much.
“As you all know, we are entering a critical stage of this investigation. We have 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 the agencies of our Intelligence Community, that the allegations of widespread fraud sufficient to overturn the election were false and unsupported by the evidence.
“And yet, despite all of these specific warnings, President Trump and his team moved willfully to attempt to halt the peaceful transfer of power, to halt the constitutional process for counting votes.
“Today, Mr. Chairman, 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 premise 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 will also be a key witness. He has written a book boasting about his role in planning and coordinating the activity of January 6th, and yet, as the Chairman noted, 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 a federal judge concluded last week: ‘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 have already defeated President Trump’s efforts to hide certain White House records behind a shield of Executive Privilege.
“As the court in that ruling said: ‘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.
“In a time when my Republican colleagues – many of them – are seeking to minimize the events of January 6th and putting politics above their oath of office, there are many other Republicans our Committee has heard from.
“Many Republicans in statehouses, state agencies, at the Department of Justice, and staff in President Trump’s own White House, who continue to demonstrate a firm and unwavering commitment to their constitutional obligations.
“These men and women are models for the American people. They are the kind of public servants our 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.
“We live in the greatest constitutional Republic in history. No citizen in our Republic can be a bystander. If we do not stand for our freedom and for our Constitution, we will lose them.
“In his ruling last week, 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 our country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6th will repeat itself.’
“I urge my colleagues to support this resolution to move this contempt proceeding to the floor, and I yield back.”
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