Jan. 6 committee wins big as John Eastman loses fight to hide records
After signaling that an unfavorable ruling against attorney and 2020 election disinformation peddler John Eastman was all but imminent, a federal judge dropped the hammer late Tuesday, rejecting Eastman’s attempts to block review of records held with his former employer as well as his claim that the Jan. 6 committee is without authority.
The ruling is an important victory for the committee’s investigation into last year’s attack of the U.S. Capitol since the panel has faced repeated accusations in lawsuits—as well as from Republican members of Congress—that its formation was improper from its inception and that its operations were focused on law enforcement over legislating.
Only Monday, Judge David Carter ordered Eastman to begin cooperating with the Jan. 6 probe more directly. Eastman previously invoked his Fifth Amendment right when subpoenaed by the committee on Nov. 8, prompting the panel to then subpoena his onetime employer Chapman University for emails and other relevant records.
Eastman balked, citing violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights but Carter was unmoved, directing Eastman to produce, at the very least, a privilege log identifying which items he believed should be protected.
Carter elaborated on his decision in his ruling Tuesday night.
Emphasizing that Eastman’s “actions clearly fall within the bounds” of the Jan. 6 investigation—those actions included, among other things, his writing of two memos strategizing how former Vice President Mike Pence could be compelled to overturn the 2020 election results—Judge Carter wrote there were “numerous plausible legislative measures” that could one day be taken because of Eastman’s conduct and communications.
“The public interest here is weighty and urgent. Congress seeks to understand the causes of a grave attack on our nation’s democracy and a near-successful attempt to subvert the will of the voters. Congressional action to safeguard a [presidential] election is essential to preserve the departments and institutions of the general government from impairment or destruction, whether threatened by force or by corruption,” Carter wrote in the 16-page ruling.
When the case was before him in California on Monday, Judge Carter deftly established through questioning Eastman’s attorney Charles Burnham that Eastman acted on Trump’s behalf in the runup to Jan. 6.
Therefore, he explained Tuesday, claims that the committee’s inquiries are overly broad or irrelevant ultimately fail to hold up.
Carter noted throughout the ruling that the committee’s subpoena was enforceable because it had obtained “credible evidence” that Eastman encouraged Pence and other legislators to reject or delay election results.
Eastman also represented former President Donald Trump in several lawsuits challenging the 2020 election results and further, he was privy to or participated in meetings held at the Willard Hotel ‘war room’ with numerous Trump allies including ex-White House strategist Steve Bannon.
As to the overbroad claims, Carter explained that the committee’s probe is inherently “expansive” and for a valid reason; it “covers both the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack on the Capitol and the influencing factors that fomented such an attack.”
“It is reasonable to infer that public perception of the election and Dr. Eastman’s attempts to invalidate the results constituted “influencing factors” for some of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021,” Carter added.
In contrast to the “significant public interest” posed by allowing the committee to subpoena Chapman University for his communications, Eastman failed to identify any specific threats posed to him nor any harm that could befall him when the records are produced.
“The subpoena seeks documents only between the election on Nov. 3, 2020, and the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021,” Carter noted.
Further, efforts were made in good faith to narrow the scope of the subpoena after it was issued. Where Chapman University initially produced 30,000 documents for the Jan. 6 probe, the committee worked with the school to limit the search to just 19,000 documents.
“Although the number of documents produced is substantial, the volume is more likely a reflection of the extent of relevant communications rather than of an impermissibly broad inquiry,” Carter wrote.
The judge also unwound a popular talking point from the committee’s critics: from its inception, the committee was altogether invalid because Kevin McCarthy, leader of the House GOP, did not get to appoint members to the panel.
In short: when the resolution to form the committee was first created, it called for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to appoint 13 members in consultation with McCarthy.
McCarthy responded by selecting nominees who largely voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory on Jan. 6 or insisted that the scope of the committee’s focus extend to the “hundreds of violent political riots” that unfolded the previous summer after the death of George Floyd or to the overall threat posed to lawmakers from extremists.
Of the five nominees submitted by McCarthy—Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, Troy Nehls of Texas, Rodney Davis of Illinois, and Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota—only Armstrong and Davis voted to certify Biden’s win. Though Nehls did not vote to certify Biden, Pelosi still agreed to his placement.
Even with three nominees accepted by Pelosi and two denied—Jordan and Banks—McCarthy yanked his picks altogether and dug in for the duration. Until now, McCarthy claims that the Jan. 6 probe was improperly formed—it was not—and that Democrats unfairly denied Republicans from participating.
Carter rejected Eastman’s echoes of the increasingly tired argument on Tuesday night.
“The appointment process unquestionably included consultation with the Minority Leader in line with the plain language of the organizing resolution,” Carter wrote. “Dr. Eastman argues that the resolution requires a ranking minority member to be appointed after nomination by the Republican Steering Committee and a vote by the Republican House Conference. But that requirement does not appear in the text of the resolution creating this select committee…. because the speaker followed the requirements of H.R. 503 in appointing members, the select committee is properly constituted.”
Allegations by Eastman and others that the committee is acting as a “law enforcement” body because its members have made public statements suggesting they would not ignore criminal violations if they were turned up in the probe were dismissed, too.
Similar investigations were formed into attacks on the United States before, Judge Carter noted, like Sep. 11, 2001, or the War of 1812.
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