The latest chapter of accountability for the bloody Jan. 6 riot is playing out in a quiet California courtroom, where disgraced law school professor John Eastman is going through a disbarment hearing over his role fueling former President Donald Trump’s belief that he could disregard the 2020 election and remain in power.
At issue is whether lawyers can claim they’re “just doing their job.” In Eastman’s case, that means actively playing along with a plot to damage American democracy by giving dubious advice to one of the world’s most difficult legal clients: Donald J. Trump.
One week into defending himself from an 11-count disciplinary charge filed in January, things aren’t looking good for Eastman.
Although it’s essentially a professional regulatory rebuke, the disciplinary charge reads like a criminal indictment. Eastman is charged with making false representations and failing to support the nation’s Constitution and its laws. He’s accused of committing “an act of moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption,” as stated in the charge notice.
Eastman was the author of a now-infamous memo in which he argued Vice President Mike Pence could single-handedly reject electoral college votes to buy Republican state legislatures time to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. And his six-page memo laying out how Pence could reject the electoral college is the heart of the case.
Judge Shuts Down Trump ‘Coup Memo’ Scribe John Eastman’s ‘Expert’ Witness
The idea was to pull the plug on the traditional seamless transfer of power from one American president to another. The coup failed both in courts and in Congress, which turned into a literal battlefield with the Capitol Police and rioters on Jan. 6, 2021. But Eastman has mostly avoided any real repercussions besides reputation to damage—until now.
Last week, the judge on his case said that “luckily” he’s not on trial for all of the false statements he made in one article published less than two weeks after the insurrection, where Eastman defended the legal advice he gave Trump. In that article, Eastman repeatedly debunked claims about Georgia’s “suitcases of ballots” and Michigan’s vote-flipping machines, “illegal ballot harvesting,” and ghost absentee votes.
“The vice president was not being asked to decide the matter himself, but to pause the proceedings long enough,” Eastman confessed.
Those words now carry a more haunting weight given the fuller picture provided by the House Jan. 6 Committees. The panel revealed a year ago this week how MAGA Republicans assembled fake electors in seven swing states to erase the victory of now-President Joe Biden.
Since then, Eastman was forced to retire from his spot as dean of Chapman University’s law school just outside Los Angeles. The feds seize his phone. His reputation was eviscerated when a California federal judge cited evidence of a crime or fraud and forced Eastman to turn over his emails to Congress. And the extent of his personal involvement in Trump’s failed coup was laid bare in those messages, which were splashed on TVs all across the country last summer and showed how Pence’s own lawyer ripped into Trump’s kooky professor as a violent mob descended on them in the Capitol .
“Thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege,” Greg Jacob wrote to Eastman at 3:14 pm that day, only to have Eastman throw the blame right back at him.
“My ‘bullshit’ — seriously?” he shot back. “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so the American people can see for themselves what happened.”
Trump’s ‘Coup Memo’ Author Facing Disbarment in California
So far, Eastman’s disbarment trial has rehashed many of the same damning details that were already released during the nearly dozen House Jan. 6 Committee hearings, where Jacob tested about the pressure aimed at convincing Pence to abuse his authority.
Jacob appeared again last week, this time in the Los Angeles courtroom, where he tested that Eastman knew his stop-the-vote plan was utterly ludicrous—plainly evident by the way the conservative legal scholar came to the obvious conclusion himself that it would never pass the Supreme Court, even the present one packed with Trump appointees.
Jacob previously recalled Eastman asking, “If this case got to the Supreme Court, we’d lose 9-0, wouldn’t we, if we actually took your position and it got up there?” To which Eastman eventually responded: “Yeah, all right, it would be 9-0.”
Jacob repeated the story in court on Wednesday, noting that Eastman at first believed he could at least convince the iconoclastic and conservative judge he’d once clerked for: Justice Clarence Thomas.
Eastman’s own testimony was interrupted by Jacob’s appearance in court, which took precedence because of his limited availability. The scholar on trial is expected to take the stand again in the coming days, with the trial resuming on Tuesday.
One question that remains to be answered is how significant a role Eastman’s own guilty conscience would play in the trial. The Jan. 6 Committee exposed messages from Eastman that showed him taking steps to avoid a potential prosecution when his clearly illegal plan failed.
“I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” Eastman emailed Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
MAGA ire is now being directed at Judge Yvette D. Roland over her stern approach from the very start of the trial, when she began dismantling Eastman’s defense by blocking several of his proposed witnesses from testifying. Among them was a certified public accountant, Joseph Fried, who wrote a book that’s skeptical about the 2020 election results—but someone whom the judge concluded had no relevant training or expertise in elections.
Over the weekend, the conservative Arizona Sun Times seized on the fact that Roland had donated to Democrats to attack her.
“I have NEVER encountered a judge before who contributed to political parties AFTER they became a sitting judge! She’s obviously extremely partisan but ruling on a clearly politically tinged trial over a conservative attorney advising a Republican president,” noted writer Rachel Alexander, who was herself a lawyer before Arizona suspended her for misconduct 10 years ago this month, according to records pulled by The Daily Beast.
However, Federal Election Commission records show that nearly all of the judge’s political donations occurred when she was still a lawyer working at a private firm; and the $344 she contributed in the past four years to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s re-election bid and the progressive fundraiser ActBlue were well below the amount allowed in the state’s judicial ethics code.
The fate of Eastman’s law license is largely in Roland’s hands. She alone will decide the trial’s outcome, even though her ruling could be appealed and end up in California’s Supreme Court.
The trial was supposed to end after two weeks, but the judge added an extra week at the end of August, as delays and thorny legal issues have popped up along the way, meaning Eastman might not know for another two-plus months whether he’ ll keep his law license.
Trump Attorney John Eastman Loses Bid to Protect His Phone From Feds
As Los Angeles legal journalist Meghann Cuniff pointed out, Eastman has refused to name people in court other than Trump, whom he advised about what turned out to be a failed plan, citing attorney-client privilege that normally protects correspondence between the two.
“The fact that someone is a client is not covered,” Roland asserted in court.
“When the question, Your Honor, with all due respect, is ‘Who are the clients you would have provided this advice to?’ revealing the name of the client reveals the advice that I gave to them,” Cuniff quoted Eastman as saying in court.
By pushing back the potential end of the trial to late August, the judge has also opened up an awkward possibility that Eastman will be implicated in yet another case before this one wraps up: the Atlanta-area criminal investigation into the Trump effort to overturn Georgia’s state election and recruit a slate of fake electors.
Prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, are widely expected to bring charges against Trump and a handful of co-conspirators who tried to erase Biden’s lead there by intimidating the state’s top elections official and replacing electors slated to vote for Biden with Trump loyalists who signed a document purporting to represent the state’s real electors.
While Eastman losing his law license in California would be the harshest punishment he’s faced yet, it would hardly compare to a criminal indictment in Fulton County.
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