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John Eastman is the Trump lawyer at the center of the Jan. 6 investigation


An illegal scheme to overturn the 2020 election, a vice president under pressure to do so and a lawyer for Trump who knew it was illegal.


That lawyer's name is John Eastman. He's a well-connected conservative lawyer. He pushed a false theory that Pence could block the certification of the electoral votes when he oversaw the count in Congress on January 6. At Trump's rally that morning, Eastman called out the vice president.


JOHN EASTMAN: Anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now. Deirdre, can you remind us who John Eastman is?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning. Eastman was an outside legal adviser to Trump. He was a law professor who had circulated a memo that got a lot of attention from Trump supporters because it argued that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to reject the certified electoral votes from some states. Allies like Rudy Giuliani seized on this theory, and so did President Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: How much access did Eastman have to the Trump inner circle leading up to January 6?

WALSH: A lot. He met repeatedly with Pence's legal counsel, Greg Jacob, who testified yesterday. Jacob had researched the law. He actually went to the same law school as Eastman. And he told Eastman in no uncertain terms that the theory that he was pushing to give this incredible power to one person, the vice president, who was on the presidential ticket, was not in line with the Constitution. Eastman also talked to White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, who was incredibly blunt about what could happen if Pence did what he was asking. Here's Herschmann.


ERIC HERSCHMANN: I said, you're going to cause riots in the streets. And he said words to the effect of, there has been violence in the history of our country to protect the democracy or protect the republic.

WALSH: As we heard earlier, Eastman was there at that rally which preceded the riot at the Capitol.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the committee sued to get Eastman's emails, and the judge in that case said it was likely that he broke the law. So what do we know about his potential legal troubles?

WALSH: Right. It was federal Judge David Carter in that case, where there was a ruling that Eastman had to turn over materials to the January 6 committee. Carter cited two possible criminal statutes that Eastman may have violated - obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States. We heard after January 6, Herschmann shut down Eastman as he was still trying to challenge the election, and he told Eastman he should get a good criminal attorney. The committee also revealed an email that Eastman sent to Rudy Giuliani asking for a presidential pardon. He did not get one.

MARTÍNEZ: And one more thing - before the hearing, we learned that Eastman emailed Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Tell us about that.

WALSH: Right. We already knew that Thomas texted with White House Chief of staff Mark Meadows, pushing Eastman's theory. The Washington Post reported that the panel has emails between Thomas and Eastman. But it was notable they actually never came up in yesterday's hearing. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the January 6 committee, told reporters he sent Thomas a letter asking her to appear. For her part, Thomas said yesterday she is willing to come and talk to the committee and clear up what she says are misconceptions. We don't have any evidence that Justice Thomas knew about his wife's activities. We do know that Thomas did not recuse himself from cases related to January 6 that came before the high court, and consistently Justice Thomas has voted in Trump's favor, even though the court overwhelmingly ruled against Trump in those election-related cases.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.