California state bar seeking to strip John Eastman’s law licence over Trump 2020 election lies

Attorney was top member of Trump’s legal team during post-election bid to overturn his defeat

Alex Woodward,John Bowden
Thursday 26 January 2023 23:16 GMT
GOP representative says Donald Trump should be charged over Jan 6 riot

John Eastman, who led Donald Trump’s legal bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, could be stripped of his licence to practise law after he was hit with 11 charges stemming from his efforts fuelled by the former president’s election lies.

The State Bar of California’s Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona announced the case against Mr Eastman on Thursday.

An 11-count complaint includes charges based on “allegations that Eastman engaged in a course of conduct to plan, promote, and assist then-President Trump in executing a strategy, unsupported by facts or law, to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by obstructing the count of electoral votes of certain states.”

Essentially, it focuses on two areas of wrongdoing — statements containing falsehoods about election fraud and the veracity of the 2020 election results, as well as Mr Eastman’s role in the so-called “fake electors” scheme. That plot involved concocting Trump-supporting slates of “electors” in states actually won by Joe Biden in the hopes that state legislatures would pass resolutions calling for those Trump-supporting electors to be recognised in Washington during the counting of electoral college votes and their subsequent certification by Congress.

“Specific charges allege that Eastman made false and misleading statements regarding purported election fraud ... that contributed to provoking a crowd to assault and breach the Capitol to intimidate then-Vice President Pence and prevent the electoral count from proceeding,” according to an accompanying statement from Mr Cardona.

The state bar counsel went on to assert that after figures including then-Attorney General William Barr made clear that there was no evidence found to indicate widespread election fraud in 2020, Mr Eastman’s continued spreading of false claims was irresponsible and wrong.

Mr Eastman “knew, or was grossly negligent in not knowing, that there was no evidence upon which a reasonable attorney would rely of election fraud or illegality that could have affected the outcome of the election, and that there was no evidence upon which a reasonable attorney would rely that the election had been ’stolen’ by the Democratic Party,” reads the official filing with the state bar.

The complaint went on to assert of the “fake electors” scheme: “[N]o reasonable attorney with expertise in constitutional or election law would have concluded that the Vice President was legally authorized to take the actions respondent proposed” by Mr Eastman and the rest of Mr Trump’s legal team.

Mr Eastman – who also was subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol – has been under investigation by the state bar since last March.

His speech on 6 January as part of Mr Trump’s “Stop the Steal”-themed rally on the Ellipse was a contributing factor to the charges against him, according to the complaint, which pointed to his unfounded remarks about election fraud before a mob violently breached the halls of Congress.

“Eastman knew, or should have known, that the factual premise for his proposals – that massive fraud was at play – was false, and that Trump had lost his bid for re-election,” according to the bar’s statement.

Mr Eastman “ignored” the truth when he spoke at the rally, the statement added.

Mr Eastman was behind a shocking memo that articulated a widely condemned strategy that would give Mr Pence a pathway to declare Mr Trump the winner of the 2020 election, pointing to a clause in the US Constitution that is now central to a massive US Supreme Court case.

His extreme reading of the so-called “independent state legislature” theory has alarmed constitutional law experts and civil rights groups, as well as chief justices of Supreme Courts in all 50 states, while animating bogus right-wing efforts to overturn democratic election results.

Mr Eastman is the second member of Mr Trump’s former legal team to face repercussions for their actions in the wake of the ex-president’s defeat in 2020.

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, was suspended from practising law in New York and now faces disbarrment in Washington DC over the same allegations of knowingly spreading mistruths about the 2020 election.

Both of the men are also thought to be in danger of facing criminal charges in Fulton County, Georgia, where investigators have been pursuing a grand jury investigation into the former president’s campaign and legal team for months over their efforts to pressure state lawmakers and other officials in Georgia to reverse Mr Trump’s defeat there

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