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Ex-Trump aide Peter Navarro ordered to hand over emails

Peter Navarro, a former Trump administration adviser, was ordered Thursday to hand over emails from his time in the White House as they are presidential records. File Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI
Peter Navarro, a former Trump administration adviser, was ordered Thursday to hand over emails from his time in the White House as they are presidential records. File Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

March 10 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ordered former Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro to hand over hundreds of emails connected to a personal account he used during his tenure at the White House.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued the order Thursday, rejecting Navarro's attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him in August by the Justice Department seeking the documents on the grounds that they are presidential records.

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The Justice Department had accused Navarro of wrongly holding onto presidential records in violation of the Presidential Records Act, which states presidential records are created or received by an employee in the course of their duties for the president.

Under the act, any presidential record sent or received from a non-official email account must be sent to their official account within 20 days, and they must all be given to the National Archives and Records Administration upon the completion of a presidential administration.

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Navarro's use of his personal ProtonMail account became known by a House select subcommittee that was probing the government's response to the coronavirus, and it was later learned that 200 to 250 emails considered presidential records under the PRA were either sent or received from that account.

The lawsuit was filed following failed attempts to have Navarro hand over the emails and after he told the NARA he would refuse to give them the documents absent a grant of immunity.

In her ruling Thursday, Kollar-Kotelly rejected Navarro's arguments that the PRA does not impose an obligation on him to return the presidential records and lacks an enforcement mechanism, as well as any deadline by which he must turn over any such records in his possession.

"Dr. Navarro contends that he has no statutory duties under the PRA," Kollar-Kotelly wrote in her ruling. "This position would defeat the entire purpose of the statute, i.e., to ensure that presidential records, as defined, are collected, maintained and made available to the public.

"The PRA makes plain that presidential advisers such as Dr. Navarro are part and parcel of the statutory scheme in that they are required to preserve presidential records during their tenure so that they can be transferred to NARA at the end of an administration."

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In her strong rebuke of Navarro's arguments, Kollar-Kotelly also refuted his assertion that the request for emails he received rather than those he created falls outside the statute's scope. She retorted that this is a misunderstanding of the statute, as all emails in his account are presidential records if they are connected to his employment in the administration.

The lawsuit comes as Navarro fights two contempt of Congress charges filed against him for failing to comply with a subpoena seeking records and testimony by the now-defunct House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on Congress.

Navarro had argued before the court that his refusal to return the emails to the government was justified as doing so would risk violating his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Kollar-Kotelly also dismissed that argument, stating that the former aide to President Donald Trump does not explain why the production of such documents would incriminate him and that handing them over is not considered to be compelled testimonial communication.

"Such 'pre-existing, voluntarily prepared documents' are not covered by Fifth Amendment," she wrote.

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