“They had a damn insider on SCOTUS”: Experts alarmed after Trump lawyer emails inadvertently leak

The emails also raise new questions about Justice Clarence Thomas' wife Ginni's contact with Trump attorney

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published November 3, 2022 1:38PM (EDT)

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas attends the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett to be the U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice on October 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas attends the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett to be the U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice on October 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump's lawyers believed that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was their best bet to overturn the results of the 2020 election, according to newly released emails.

Eight emails obtained by POLITICO revealed correspondence among Trump lawyers discussing legal strategies to convince Republican members of Congress to block the official certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6. The emails, which Trump legal adviser John Eastman tried to shield from Congress, were obtained after Eastman's lawyers accidentally uploaded the emails to be shared with the House Jan. 6 committee in a public Dropbox link.

In one email from Trump attorney Ken Chesebro to Eastman and others, Chesebro wrote that Thomas would "end up being key" to their plot to overturn President Joe Biden's win.

"We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt," Chesebro wrote days before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Supreme Court justices are responsible for handling emergency matters in individual states, and Thomas is the justice assigned to handle emergency matters in Georgia – putting him in position to receive any urgent appeal of Trump's lawsuit to the Supreme Court.

Eastman responded to the email agreeing with the plan. Their emails further discussed filing a lawsuit that they hoped would result in an order that "TENTATIVELY" held that Biden's electoral votes from Georgia were not valid due to election fraud, CNN reported

Eastman, who once clerked for Thomas, attempted to withhold the emails from the Jan. 6 select committee, but a judge ordered the emails be turned over, citing evidence of likely crimes committed by Trump and Eastman.

At least one email included correspondence between Eastman and Clarence Thomas' wife Ginni Thomas inviting Eastman to speak on Dec. 8, 2020, to a group of conservative activists to provide an update about election litigation, according to the Washington Post

Ginni Thomas also lobbied state legislators in Arizona and Wisconsin via email, urging them to help overturn Biden's victory.

Following the release of the emails, legal experts raised concerns about Thomas' role on the Supreme Court and criticized him for not recusing himself from matters related to his wife's efforts to overturn the election. 

"They had a damn insider on SCOTUS who they thought would help them overthrow our democracy.  He's married to a deranged MAGA cult member. He won't even recuse himself," wrote former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli.

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"When is it enough?" wondered Rachel Sklar, an attorney and journalist. "His wife is an insurrectionist. He refuses to recuse. He's the Trump election-denial go-to? Come on."

The report comes as legal observers and government watchdog groups call for an investigation into Thomas' refusal to recuse himself from election-related cases.

"Hey look! It wasn't just critics of the Supreme Court who thought Clarence Thomas was corrupted - Trump's lawyers said so too in secret emails just revealed," tweeted journalist Helen Kennedy.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote that Chesebro, who saw Thomas as Trump's "only chance" to stop the 2020 election, should be held accountable for his actions as well.

"Such abhorrent abuse of an attorney's license to practice law should be strictly disciplined and perhaps criminally prosecuted," Tribe tweeted.

Reporter Jacqueline Alemany, who covered the emails for The Washington Post, told MSNBC that the discussions also raise questions about why Eastman and Chesebro were so confident that Thomas "would be so sympathetic" to their cause and his wife's communications with Eastman and others about overturning the election.

"It's a very small world here," Alemany said. "There was no indication in the correspondence that either of the Thomases were [copied] on the e-mails, but you can clearly see why John Eastman was fighting hard to prevent the release of these e-mails."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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