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‘Magical Incantation’: Judge Amit Mehta Sentences Trump Advisor to 4 Months in Prison for Defying Jan. 6 Committee Subpoena

‘Magical Incantation’: Judge Amit Mehta Sentences Trump Advisor to 4 Months in Prison for Defying Jan. 6 Committee Subpoena

  • The Obama appointee told Peter Navarro that he’s “not a victim,” or “a target of political persecution,” and warned him that “executive privilege” is not a “magical incantation” or a “get out of jail free card.”

An Indian American federal judge has sentenced former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro to four months in prison for criminal contempt of Congress. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta handed down the sentence today (Jan. 26) and also ordered Navarro to pay a fine of $9,500.

Navarro, 74, was found guilty by a jury in September of two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee.

During the sentencing hearing in Washington federal court, Mehta told Navarro that “his refusal to provide documents and testimony had hindered the work of the Democratic-led House of Representatives committee,” according to a Reuters report. “They had a job to do and you made it harder.”

He also told Navarro he was “not a victim,” or “a target of political persecution, as much as he may have proclaimed otherwise,” a NBC report said. He also warned him that the words “executive privilege” are not a “magical incantation” or a “get out of jail free card” to get out of a subpoena, the report added. 

The Gujarat-born judge was praised by lawyers of five leaders of the far-right militia group Oath Keeper who were convicted and sentenced on Nov. 29, 2022, in the historic seditious conspiracy trial for their role in the violent attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Founder Stewart Rhodes and fellow group member Kelly Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. Rhodes’ sentence — 18 years in prison — was the longest handed out so far for the riot. Meggs was sentenced to 12 years in prison.  They are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty of what was described as “a rarely used civil war-era charge.” The three other defendants – Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell – were also convicted of obstructing an official proceeding.

The same day, in a separate trial, Mehta sentenced Matthew Wood of Reidsville, North Carolina, to three years of probation, including 12 months of home detention, 100 hours of community service and $2,000 restitution for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Mehta was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in December 2014, becoming the first Asia Pacific American appointment there. Early in his tenure on the federal bench, he made waves with a case in which the Federal Trade Commission was seeking to block the proposed merger of the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco Corp. and US Foods.

He made history in October 2021 when he ruled that a former Afghan militant was being held unlawfully at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, making it the first time in 10 years that a detainee won such a case against the U.S. government. Mehta entered a final order and two classified opinions in the case of Asadullah Haroon Gul, who was captured in 2007 by Afghan forces. He was later turned over to the U.S. and remains one of the last 39 detainees at the prison in Cuba.

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In October 2020, Mehta was assigned the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against Google. The Justice Department on Oct. 23, 2020, sued Google over allegations that its search and advertising empire violated federal antitrust laws. According to a report in The Washington Post at the time, the federal government’s landmark lawsuit caps off a roughly year-long investigation that concluded Google wielded its digital dominance to the detriment of corporate rivals and consumers.  The complaint contended that Google relied on a mix of special agreements and other problematic business practices to secure an insurmountable lead in online search, capturing the market for nearly 90 percent of all queries in the United States.

He began his career in a San Francisco law firm before clerking in the Ninth Circuit Court. From there, he worked at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP where he focused on white-collar criminal cases, complex business disputes and appellate advocacy.

He immigrated to the U.S. at age one, with his parents, Priyavadan Mehta, an engineer and Ragini Mehta, a lab technician. He was raised outside of Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in 1993 and graduated from the University of Virginia’s law school in 1997.

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