WASHINGTON — Conservative lawyer John Eastman, architect of a strategy to overturn the 2020 election, dealt directly with President Donald Trump and received handwritten notes from him as the men sought to keep Trump in power, according to a new court filing.
The filing underscored how instrumental Eastman was in devising ways to fight Joe Biden’s victory and how personally involved Trump was in the attempt to keep the presidency in his hands. It also provided further documentation of how members of the Trump campaign and White House aides were involved in the plans.
The filing came as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is preparing for public hearings in June about the attempt to overturn the election and as more information has emerged about Eastman’s role in advising state officials in Pennsylvania to reject votes cast in favor of Biden.
Eastman did not release the contents of his communications with Trump and others in the White House and the Trump campaign, but he described them in general terms in a filing in his federal lawsuit in California against the House committee. He is fighting the release of hundreds of documents that the panel has demanded via subpoena, including by arguing that some of them are protected by attorney-client privilege.
In the filing Thursday, Eastman argued that some of his emails with the White House and Trump campaign were covered by attorney-client privilege because, he said, the people he communicated with were functioning as “conduits” for or “agents” of Trump. He said he mostly communicated with Trump using six intermediaries, three of whom worked for the Trump campaign and three of whom worked directly for Trump while he was in office.
But Eastman said he also spoke directly to Trump, and the filing stated that Eastman received two “handwritten notes from former President Trump about information that he thought might be useful for the anticipated litigation.”
“While Dr. Eastman could (and did) communicate directly with former President Trump at times, many of his communications with the president were necessarily through these agents,” Eastman’s lawyers, Anthony T. Caso and Charles Burnham, wrote, referring to the six intermediaries.
The documents Eastman is seeking to block from release include the two handwritten notes from Trump; communications with what he called “potential clients,” including seven state legislators, who were seeking advice about how to challenge their states’ election results; a document discussing “various scenarios for Jan. 6”; and another discussing the “need to pursue election integrity litigation even in the event of Trump loss for the good of the country.”
In March, the federal judge in the case ruled that Eastman and Trump had most likely committed felonies as they pushed to overturn the election, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States. The actions taken by Trump and Eastman, the judge found, amounted to “a coup in search of a legal theory.”
At the time, the judge, David O. Carter of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, ordered the release of more than 100 of Eastman’s emails; Eastman turned them over to the House committee as he continued to fight the release of others.
Among the documents that Eastman turned over was a draft memo written for Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, that recommended that Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from contested states in his role overseeing the certification by Congress of the Electoral College results Jan. 6.
In their filing, Eastman’s lawyers wrote that their client disagreed with Carter’s conclusion that he had undermined democracy, arguing that Eastman truly believed the election was stolen. The filing cited the work of conservative media figures — including the new film “2000 Mules” by Dinesh D’Souza, which fact checkers have described as misleading — as evidence that widespread fraud occurred in the election.
“If, as seemed clear to Dr. Eastman and his client at the time, there was illegality and fraud in the election of sufficient magnitude to have altered the outcome of the election, then far from ‘undermining’ democracy, Dr. Eastman’s actions and advice must be seen for what they were — a legitimate attempt to prevent a stolen election,” Eastman’s lawyers wrote. “Perhaps Dr. Eastman was wrong about that. But even if he was, being wrong about factual claims is not and never has been criminal.”
They added, “Dr. Eastman’s position remains that his legal theories, controversial though they may have been, were not unlawful.”
In the filing, Eastman said he began working for Trump two months before the 2020 election at the invitation of Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who the Jan. 6 committee said “promoted false claims of election fraud to members of Congress” and participated in a call in which Trump tried to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state to “‘find’ enough votes to reverse his loss there.”
Eastman, Mitchell and others began preparing to fight the election results well before Election Day, but the effort “kicked into high gear” Nov. 7 — four days after the election — when Eastman met with Trump’s campaign team in Philadelphia to assist with the preparation of an election challenge, the filing said.
In deciding in March that Trump and Eastman had “more likely than not” broken the law, Carter noted that Trump had facilitated two meetings involving Eastman in the days before Jan. 6 that were “explicitly tied to persuading Vice President Pence to disrupt the joint session of Congress.”
At the first meeting, on Jan. 4, Trump and Eastman invited Pence and two of his top aides, Greg Jacob and Marc Short, to the Oval Office. There, Carter wrote, Eastman “presented his plan to Vice President Pence, focusing on either rejecting electors or delaying the count.”
That meeting was followed by another, Carter wrote, on Jan. 5, during which Eastman sought again to persuade Jacob to go along with the scheme.