John Eastman is a right-wing lawyer and law professor who advised Trump on ways to hold on to the presidency despite losing the 2020 election. He has subsequently been subpoenaed by both the House Select Committee and the Justice Department in their ongoing investigations of the insurrection.
Eastman began his career at the University of Chicago Law School, where he wrote for The University of Chicago Law Review before going on to clerk with Justice Clarence Thomas and with Judge J. Michael Luttig at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In 2020, Eastman was widely rebuked for publishing an op-ed claiming that Vice President Kamala Harris was ineligible for office given her parents’ immigration status at the time—a “birtherism” attack styled after Trump’s racist and absurd claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S.
Eastman is also a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank and training ground for conservative public figures including extremist commentator Ben Shapiro and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. After Eastman gave a speech at the Jan. 6 rally at the Capitol, the Claremont Institute backed him up in an article published in the Claremont Review of Books. However, his participation that day also forced him to retire from his position as a constitutional law professor at the Chapman University School of Law.
January 6, 2021
- On Dec. 31, 2020, Eastman concurred with attorneys working for Trump that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would help the former president’s chance of challenging the election, according to emails obtained by Politico. Specifically, Eastman believed a move by Thomas — who had jurisdiction over Georgia legal matters at the Supreme Court — would force the state’s legislature into a special session to investigate false claims of widespread voter fraud, thus delaying certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
- On Jan. 4, 2021, Eastman introduced a memo to Trump and his inner circle articulating a plan in which Vice President Mike Pence would refuse to recognize the Electoral College votes from seven states at the Jan. 6 congressional proceedings. Pence would then declare that because neither candidate had reached 270 Electoral College votes, the election would be decided by a vote in the House of Representatives, where each state would get one vote. With Republicans holding a majority of state congressional delegations, this would guarantee Trump a second term.
- In a second memo, Eastman recited baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and illegalities in the Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and Nevada elections and argued that Pence had the power to unilaterally reject electors from those states. The strategy laid out in the memos depended on each state submitting “competing electors” to Congress for review; in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Republicans did cooperate with the White House by submitting slates of fake electors. However, the plan also depended on cooperation from Pence, who refused to participate.
- On Jan. 5, 2021, Eastman and Trump met with Pence to convince him to go along with this unconstitutional strategy for overturning the election, arguing that the vice president had the power to reject electors submitted by the states.
- That same night, Eastman reportedly led a team of Trump aides in discussions at Washington’s Willard Hotel about how to overturn the election at the last minute. Trump was in communication with the group, keeping them apprised of Pence’s reluctance to reject electors from seven states.
- On Jan. 18, 2022, the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol attack subpoenaed Chapman University for Eastman’s emails. Eastman sued to block the subpoena but his case was rejected by a California federal court. Instead, he was ordered to work with the Jan. 6 committee to identify any privileged or unrelated emails that could be withheld from the subpoena.
The Big Lie
- At the Jan. 6 Save America rally at the Ellipse, just hours before a mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, Eastman delivered a speech claiming “we know there was fraud” in the 2020 election. Following that speech and the Capitol riot, Chapman University, where he had been teaching constitutional law, pressured him to retire, which he did a few days later.
- In a letter dated Dec. 30, 2021, Eastman wrote to Wisconsin State Representative Timothy Rathmun (R), who pushed for the decertification of the 2020 election for over a year after, arguing that the Wisconsin state legislature could retroactively invalidate the election if there was “acknowledged illegality.”