Trump lawyer John Eastman’s Jan. 6 admissions confirm California bar must investigate him

John Eastman, the California lawyer who resigned this year from Chapman University’s law school faculty, isn’t just walking back his role in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. He’s running it back with speed that Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt would envy.

It’s an understandable tactic given an Oct. 4 California bar disciplinary complaint seeking an investigation of Eastman’s conduct as legal point man in Trump’s last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Among other things, that effort sought to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to violate the law governing the Jan. 6 count of electoral votes by rejecting some states’ electoral slates, handing victory to Trump, or postponing the count indefinitely.

The complaint, filed by the States United Democracy Center, was signed by five former judges of the California Supreme Court and federal trial courts and by leading scholars.

The complaint states that Eastman made multiple dishonest statements both in and out of court, including in two memos falsely claiming that Pence had the power to adopt the lawless course that Trump was urging. There, Eastman wrote: “The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter.”


Not so, Eastman argued in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed and National Review interviews. That was only in his first memo, which was preliminary. The second memo stated his true views, he claimed.

Oops. The language is identical in both memos.

When confronted, Eastman fell back. He said he “meant only that Pence was the ultimate arbiter of which ballots to open in a contested election.”

Eastman’s recent and shifting accounts of his conduct in a matter in which his honesty is a central issue confirm the need for factual investigation. But even if such an investigation were to sustain Eastman’s revisionist claims, discipline would still be warranted, both because of the lack of legal support for them and because the election was no longer “contested” in any meaningful sense. By Jan, 6, numerous courts had rejected Trump’s claims of fraud and illegality.

Delay may sound harmless, but given the tight timing and sensitivity of the transition of power, it likely would have spelled chaos.

Even in Eastman’s revised account, he was urging a strategy that he knew lacked a factual and legal foundation (Pence himself determined as much) and would have plunged our Republic into uncharted and dangerously turbulent waters.

Then there are Eastman’s misstatements, spoken in his role as Trump’s attorney, at the pre-riot rally on Jan. 6: “We now know . . . how [Georgia’s] machines contributed to that fraud. … They put those ballots in a secret folder in the machines, sitting there waiting until they knew how many they needed.”

Again, in defending this falsehood, Eastman unwittingly confirms the complaint’s charge that he was willfully blind to any evidence inconsistent with his false narrative.

The National Review interviewer asked Eastman whether Georgia’s hand recount contradicted Eastman’s disinformation about voting machines. He responded: “As I understand it in Georgia, a lot of the machines don’t have paper ballots.” In fact, Georgia requires a paper ballot for each individual voter, information that any competent lawyer involved in challenging the state’s election results would surely have known.

Conduct by a lawyer that appears to have involved repeated dishonesty and bad faith, contributed to the terrible events of Jan. 6, and threatened even graver harms to our constitutional democracy must be investigated by the California bar.

Norman Eisen is the executive chair of the States United Democracy Center . He served as former President Barack Obama’s ethics czar and was special impeachment counsel to the House Judiciary Committee in 2019-20. Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco and a co-chair of the Coalition to Preserve, Protect & Defend. Both signed the Oct. 4 complaint against Eastman.