A federal judge questioned a court security officer Wednesday over a break jurors took outside shortly before delivering a guilty verdict last week in former Trump adviser Peter Navarro’s contempt of Congress case.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta called the hearing after Navarro attorney Stanley Woodward moved for a mistrial just after the verdict was read. Woodward claimed the jurors who went outside during their break were exposed to protestors toting Jan. 6-related signs, after prosecutors had linked Navarro to the circumstances of that day.
Government prosecutors maintained last week they did not see any protesters outside the exit the jurors purportedly used ahead of the verdict. Protesters were seen outside of the Washington, D.C., courthouse after the verdict was delivered, at one point stopping Navarro from delivering remarks on the outcome.
A formal mistrial motion — which could force the two-day case to be tried again with a different jury — has not yet been filed.
On Wednesday, court security officer Rosa Roldan Torres told Mehta that the jurors had requested to take their usual break outside to get some “fresh air.” Navarro attorney John Rowley asked Torres whether taking jurors outside was common practice, but Mehta dismissed the question as not relevant.
When they exited the courthouse into John Marshall Memorial Park, Torres said she directed the jurors to the right, away from members of the media standing with cameras set up.
She did see a white man with an American flag who was holding what appeared to be a posterboard below his waist, but said she did “not recall” what the sign said. The man did not engage with the jurors, she testified.
The jurors removed their juror tags before heading outside on break and were not approached by anyone during that time, Torres said. She testified she was present the whole time they were outside.
All 12 of the jurors came outside together and were talking among themselves, though Torres said she did not hear what they were discussing. Navarro later told reporters he was skeptical that all the jurors departed the building at once.
“The marshal testified [the jurors] were all there,” Navarro said to a handful of reporters after the hearing. “I cannot verify that from the footage.”
Mehta said that after the government and Navarro’s attorneys agreed to a protective order, the court would release to them security footage from two cameras — one inside and one outside — during the time the jurors traveled outside.
The court will also give the parties a public YouTube video filmed by a person outside during that time. Navarro told reporters that the video was recorded by the man with the flag, which The Hill could not independently verify.
Torres testified that the jurors were outside for less than 15 minutes, and after heading back inside, returned their verdict some 20 minutes later.
It’s not uncommon for protestors to congregate around the Washington federal courthouse, where high-profile political cases are often heard. When former President Trump was arraigned there last month, hordes of protestors congregated around the building. The seditious conspiracy trials, verdicts and sentencings of members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers brought similar buzz.
After the hearing, Navarro said that his counsel is “not accusing anybody of anything” but raising “troubling questions.”
“[The jurors] know there’s all sorts of trials going on, and they’re getting ready to deliver a verdict, and then they come out here. What do you think those people are for, particularly when one [sign] says ‘Peter for Prison?’” Navarro said, referring to protestors gathered outside the courthouse on the day the verdict in his case was announced.
After his conviction, Navarro made comments outside the courthouse and was swarmed by a handful of protesters speaking over him and attempting to block him with signs. He told reporters he was convicted because of “association with J6,” not for contempt of Congress, the charges lodged against him.
Videos captured by The Hill after Navarro’s conviction showed protesters with signs reading “Defend Democracy,” “Pete 4 Prison” and “Free J6 Political Prisoners Now.” Torres testified that she did not recall seeing any of those signs when the jurors were outside.
Prosecutors suggested Wednesday that Navarro’s attorneys should have raised the issue before the jury delivered its verdict, so that Mehta could have inquired whether they saw the signs or their opinions were swayed.
A former Trump economic adviser, Navarro was convicted last week on two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with a subpoena served by the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6. The first charge pertained to his failure to produce documents and the second was for failing to appear for a deposition.
Navarro has 14 days from the verdict to formally file for a mistrial.