A federal judge ruled Monday that then-President Donald Trump and lawyer John Eastman “more likely than not” committed crimes in their efforts to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
The extraordinary ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Carter ordered Eastman to turn over 101 emails to the House’s Jan. 6 select committee. Eastman, who had argued that the emails were protected by attorney-client privilege, formulated a legal strategy to keep Trump in office and pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College count showing Trump had lost to Biden.
In a blistering 44-page ruling, Carter laid out a meticulous timeline of Trump’s efforts to convince elected officials and the public of his bogus claim that his loss to Biden was attributable to election fraud. The ruling, which can be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, will no doubt raise expectations on Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a Justice Department investigation of the former president that could result in criminal charges.
“President Trump and Dr. Eastman justified the plan with allegations of election fraud — but President Trump likely knew the justification was baseless, and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful,” Carter wrote.
Carter was especially critical of the legal justification used by Trump and Eastman to challenge the 2020 election results, and noted the mountain of evidence that showed the election had not been marred by fraud that had any bearing on the outcome.
“In the months following the election, numerous credible sources — from the President’s inner circle to agency leadership to statisticians — informed President Trump and Dr. Eastman that there was no evidence of election fraud,” Carter wrote, adding, “An internal Trump Campaign memo concluded in November that fraud claims related to Dominion voting machines were baseless.”
Carter continued: “In early December, Attorney General [William] Barr publicly stated there was no evidence of fraud, and on December 27, Deputy Attorney General [Richard] Donoghue privately told President Trump that after ‘dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews,’ the Department of Justice had concluded that ‘the major allegations [of election fraud] are not supported by the evidence developed.’ Still, President Trump repeatedly urged that ‘the Department [of Justice] should publicly say that the election is corrupt or suspect or not reliable.’ By early January, more than sixty court cases alleging fraud had been dismissed for lack of evidence or lack of standing.”
The Jan. 6 select committee, which is investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol that was carried out in an attempt to disrupt the certification of Biden’s win over Trump, had sought the emails Eastman had sent laying out the plan he and Trump knew to be illegal, Carter said.
“Based on the evidence, the Court finds that it is more likely than not that President Trump and Dr. Eastman dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” the judge wrote.
Trump and Eastman, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, have fought to keep their records from being turned over to the Jan. 6 panel. In January, however, the Supreme Court rejected arguments made by Trump’s lawyers that the National Archives could withhold hundreds of pages of documents from the committee.
The sole dissenter in that 8-1 ruling was Thomas, whose wife, Ginni, has been revealed to have encouraged then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to fight to keep Trump in office.
It appears likely that the case deciding the fate of Eastman’s emails will also head to the Supreme Court, which could set up a dilemma for Chief Justice John Roberts. Democrats, citing Ginni Thomas’s communications with Meadows, are demanding that her husband recuse himself on any further cases regarding the 2020 election.
“This is a textbook case for removing him, recusing him from those decisions,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Sunday of Thomas on ABC’s “This Week.” “All I hear is silence from the Supreme Court right now. That better change in the coming week.”
Citing the need for ethics reform at the highest court in the nation, Klobuchar criticized the current system in which it is left to individual justices to recuse themselves in cases.
“I would hope Justice Roberts, who I respect, will stand up and get those ethics rules in place,” she said.