AP Politics

Trump adviser faces possible disbarment over his efforts to overturn 2020 election

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Attorney John Eastman, the architect of a legal strategy aimed at keeping former President Donald Trump in power, concocted a baseless theory and made false claims of fraud in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, a prosecutor said Tuesday in arguing that Eastman be disbarred.

Eastman’s attorney countered that his client never intended to steal the election, but was considering ways to delay electoral-vote counting so states could investigate allegations of voting improprieties. Trump’s claims of fraud were roundly rejected by courts, including by judges the Republican appointed.

Eastman faces 11 disciplinary charges in the State Bar Court of California stemming from his development of a dubious legal strategy aimed at having Vice President Mike Pence interfere with the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. If the court finds Eastman culpable of the alleged violations it can recommend a punishment such as suspending or revoking his law license. The California Supreme Court makes the final decision.

Duncan Carling of the office of chief trial counsel — which is seeking Eastman’s disbarment — said Eastman’s legal theory was “unsupported by historical precedent and law and contrary to our values as a nation.” Eastman continued his efforts to undermine the election even after state and federal officials publicly rejected Trump allies’ claims of fraud, Carling said.

“All of his misconduct was done with one singular purpose: To obstruct the electoral count on Jan. 6 and stop Vice President Pence from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the election,” Carling said. “He was fully aware in real time that his plan was damaging the nation,” he added.

Eastman’s attorney, Randall A. Miller, told the judge that Eastman “was not there to steal the election or invent ways to make President Trump the winner.” Miller argued Eastman was merely engaging in what he said was a serious debate at the time about what authority the vice president had concerning the certification of the election.

“The facts will show that the purpose of Dr. Eastman’s eventual assessment here was to delay, to delay the counting of the electoral votes so that there could be reasonable investigation undertaken by those states,” he said.

The proceedings are expected to last at least eight days. The California State Bar is a regulatory agency and the only court system in the U.S. that is dedicated to attorney discipline. Eastman is expected to testify later Tuesday.

Others who will testify in the hearing in the State Bar Court of California include Greg Jacob, a former attorney for Pence. Jacob had pushed back against Eastman’s plan to have Pence stop the certification of Biden’s victory. Pence didn’t have the power to overturn the election and has said so.

The State Bar alleges that Eastman violated California’s business and professions code by making false and misleading statements that constitute acts of “moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption,” and in doing so he “violated this duty in furtherance of an attempt to usurp the will of the American people and overturn election results for the highest office in the land — an egregious and unprecedented attack on our democracy.”

Eastman has been a member of the California Bar since 1997, according to its website. He was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a law firm affiliated with the Claremont Institute. He ran for California attorney general in 2010, finishing second in the Republican primary.

Eastman had been dean of Chapman University law school in Southern California from 2007 to 2010, and was a professor at the school when he retired in 2021 after more than 160 faculty members signed a letter calling for the university to take action against him.

Eastman’s disciplinary hearing comes as special counsel Jack Smith continues his investigation into efforts by Trump and his Republican allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

A federal grand jury in Washington has been meeting behind closed doors for months to hear testimony from witnesses, including Pence, who has publicly described a pressure campaign by Trump aimed at getting him to halt Congress’ certification of the election results and the win by Biden, a Democrat.

Federal agents seized Eastman’s cellphone last summer as he was leaving a restaurant, he said in a court filing. That day, law enforcement officials conducted similar activity around the country as part of their probe.

In an interview after the hearing, Eastman said he had not been contacted by the Justice Department or summoned by the grand jury.

Eastman said of his advice to Trump, “It’s what lawyers are expected to do, kind of lay out what are the options we have before us to consider.”

“There are huge problems,” Eastman added, saying he wanted to ensure that alleged voting irregularities did not influence the outcome in the election. “I think it’s important, quite beyond the partisan controversies over the former president … to identify whether our election system has such vulnerabilities that we can’t trust it anymore.”

Since Smith’s appointment in November, he has cast a broad net in demanding interviews and testimony related to fundraising, Trump’s rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, and communications between Trump associates and election officials in battleground states. Eastman spoke at the rally.

In December, Smith subpoenaed local election officials in Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania, asking for communications with or involving Trump, his 2020 campaign aides and a list of allies — including Eastman — who were involved in his efforts to try to overturn the results of the election.

The investigation is separate from another probe by Smith into classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, that led this month to felony charges against Trump. Trump pleaded not guilty last week to 37 felony counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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Richer reported from Boston.

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This story has been corrected to show that Eastman was a professor, not the dean, when he retired from Chapman University law school in 2021.

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