By Katelyn Polantz, CNN Reporter, Crime and Justice
A federal judge has decided the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection should get access this month to 159 emails of right-wing attorney John Eastman that largely relate to his efforts on behalf of Donald Trump to try to block the 2020 election result.
The judge — as he did previously related to another set of Eastman emails — decided one of the emails could be evidence of the planning of a crime, specifically Eastman and Trump’s efforts to thwart Congress certifying the election result on January 6, 2021.
The ruling comes as the House committee plans Thursday to hold its first public hearing discussing some of its findings about the January 6 Capitol attack and what precipitated it.
Judge David O. Carter will allow Eastman’s team until June 13 to turn over the 159 emails.
Eastman, as an attorney for Trump working to overturn the election result, will likely be a crucial figure in the House’s retelling. His emails, described now in court but not yet released publicly, may shed significant light on actions and thoughts of the closest ring of advisers around then-President Trump, and even Trump himself.
The judge notes Trump and Eastman’s “plan to disrupt the Joint Session was fully formed and actionable as early as December 7, 2020.”
Eastman has tried to block the House from accessing his email by claiming hundreds are confidential attorney-client communications, but the judge has disagreed with him repeatedly or ruled to release several of the emails for other reasons. The House has already obtained hundreds of Eastman’s emails from his Chapman University account.
While the House is set to get another notable batch of Eastman discussions about Trump’s plans after the election, he will be able to keep secret 440 of his emails leading up to the week of January 6, largely because they represent attorney opinions about legal maneuvers, according to the decision on Tuesday.
Still, many emails that Eastman claimed were his legal work are not or should be disclosed, the judge found.
Carter said in his order Tuesday that well before January 6, Eastman was sending “high-level White House staff” memos and also reaching out to “sympathetic” state legislators in three battleground states — Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona — about the use of “alternate” electors for Trump that could help in blocking Joe Biden’s electoral win.
“Dr. Eastman’s actions in these few weeks indicate that his and President Trump’s pressure campaign to stop the electoral count did not end with Vice President Pence — it targeted every tier of federal and state elected officials. Convincing state legislatures to certify competing electors was essential to stop the count and ensure President Trump’s reelection,” Carter, of the Central District of California federal court, wrote on Tuesday night.
Carter separately says some emails illuminate how Eastman and others discussed avoiding a post-election court decision that would hurt their plan to convince Vice President Mike Pence to block Biden’s electoral college win.
“Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan to stop the count was not only established by early December, it was the ultimate goal that the legal team was working to protect from that point forward,” Carter wrote.
The judge described one email exchange from late December about avoiding a court ruling that would hurt Trump, determining it could become evidence of a possible crime or fraud.
“In the fifth email, dated December 22, 2020, an attorney goes beyond strategizing litigation outcomes. This email considers whether to bring a case that would decide the interpretation of the Electoral Count Act and potentially risk a court finding that the Act binds Vice President Pence. Because the attorney concluded that a negative court ruling would ‘tank the January 6 strategy,’ he encouraged the legal team to avoid the courts. This email cemented the direction of the January 6 plan,” Carter wrote.
“The Trump legal team chose not to seek recourse in court — instead, they forged ahead with a political campaign to disrupt the electoral count. Lawyers are free not to bring cases; they are not free to evade judicial review to overturn a democratic election.”
Carter also notes that a handwritten note from Trump attached to one email regards the President celebrating his campaign crowd sizes. That too should be released, Carter said.
Eastman’s defense firm released a statement on Wednesday, addressing the judge’s decision to release another email as possible evidence of a crime.
“As was the case with the Court’s March 28 order, the Court’s crime-fraud findings were not subject to the presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or any of the other constitutional protections normally applicable to criminal proceedings,” the statement says. “Dr. Eastman remains of the view that seeking to influence action by Congress in order to address the significant evidence of illegality and fraud in the election—evidence that only grows by the day — is not only not criminal, but is fully protected by the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech and right to petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Multiple authorities have not found any widespread evidence of election fraud that would call into question Trump’s loss in 2020.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
Correction: Eastman has until June 13 to turn over the emails. A previous version had an incorrect date.
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