Trump's coup memo: Lawyers call for probe into author John Eastman

Attorney John Eastman faces increased scrutiny for his role in Donald Trump's Jan. 6 plans

By Jon Skolnik
Published October 6, 2021 11:53AM (EDT)
John Eastman (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
John Eastman (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A coalition of over two dozen influential lawyers are calling on the California bar to open an inquiry into John C. Eastman – a right-wing lawyer who has recently come under national scrutiny over his key role in Donald Trump's failed effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. 

"The available evidence supports a strong case that the State Bar should investigate whether, in the course of representing Mr. Trump, Mr. Eastman violated his ethical obligations as an attorney by filing frivolous claims, making false statements, and engaging in deceptive conduct," the group wrote to George Cardona, who handles disciplinary affairs for California bar. 

Eastman's plot to undermine the 2020 election first emerged in public discourse back in late September, when it was revealed that he had produced a six-step "memo" outlining various ways in which the former president could challenge President Biden's victory. CNN reported that the memo – first obtained by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa for their forthcoming book "Peril" – directed former Vice President Mike Pence to declare Trump the winner by throwing out electors from seven key states in which the former president lost. 

"The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission -- either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court," the memo read. "The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind."


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Under Eastman's plan, neither candidate would garner 270 electoral votes, leaving the U.S. House of Representatives with the final vote. Since the House was Republican-led during Trump's presidency, Eastman figured that the chamber would vote in the former president's favor. 

Ultimately, Trump did not have alternate electors to validly appoint, and Pence opted out of the plan, citing his limited roles under the Constitution. 

But the group of attorneys – which include U.C. Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, and former California judge Thelton Henderson – argue that Eastman's work is enough to warrant an official probe by the California state bar. 

"The available evidence supports a strong case that ... Mr. Eastman violated his ethical obligations as an attorney by filing frivolous claims, making false statements, and engaging in deceptive conduct," they claimed. "On January 6, 2021, Mr. Eastman continued this pattern of misconduct by giving the crowd at the 'Stop the Steal' rally on the National Mall another version of his misleading advice and stating that, by rejecting it, Mr. Pence had proved himself undeserving of his office."

Eastman, for his part, has tarred their complaint "hyperpartisan and political," telling CNN: "I trust that the bar association will dispense with it summarily."

This isn't the first time that Eastman, once a tenured professor of law and dean at the Chapman University School of Law, has come under fire. Last year, the conservative lawyer wrote an op-ed erroneously alleging that then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris did not qualify because she was not an American citizen. The piece was widely panned by legal scholars, but it was reportedly pivotal in helping him establish a relationship with Trump following the 2020 election.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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