Donald Trump has suffered several legal setbacks lately, but today’s ruling from Judge David Carter is easily among the most dramatic. NBC News reported:
A federal judge presiding over a civil suit involving the House committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol found Monday that former President Donald Trump “likely attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress” on Jan. 6, which would be a crime.
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Carter wrote of Trump and lawyer John Eastman’s plan to have then-Vice President Mike Pence determine the results of the 2020 election.
To appreciate why this is so important, let’s review how we arrived at this point.
Eastman allegedly played a central and direct role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election, not only pressuring Pence by way of a memo that effectively outlined a coup, but also helping pressure states not to send Democratic electors, even after the Democratic ticket won those states.
Not surprisingly, congressional investigators had a few questions for Eastman, but when he sat down with the bipartisan Jan. 6 committee, he reportedly pleaded the Fifth — by some accounts, nearly 150 times.
And so, the panel took the next obvious step: It subpoenaed Eastman’s records, most notably the emails from his time working with Trump to overturn the election. The Republican lawyer tried to block that effort, claiming the materials are protected by attorney-client privilege.
It led the Jan. 6 committee to file a motion in court a few weeks ago, making the opposite case: Communications between attorneys and clients are not protected if they’re discussing committing crimes. In other words, if you were planning to do something illegal, and you coordinated with your lawyer to execute the criminal scheme, you couldn’t hide the evidence by claiming the communications must be shielded.
It was against this backdrop that the Jan. 6 committee said that congressional investigators believe Trump and Eastman allegedly committed crimes, voiding any potential attorney-client-privilege concerns.
Eastman’s lawyers pushed back, trying to add a degree of historical weight to the case. In fact, as Politico recently reported, Eastman said granting the committee access to his emails would amount to a historic legal finding that Trump — when he was the sitting president — likely committed a crime.
“Were this Court to sustain the defendants’ claims, it may be the first formal finding of Presidential criminality by a federal court in United States history,” Eastman wrote.
All of which led to this morning’s ruling, in which Carter lowered the boom.
“Every American — and certainly the president of the United States — knows that in a democracy, leaders are elected, not installed,” Carter wrote. “With a plan this ‘BOLD,’ President Trump knowingly tried to subvert this fundamental principle. Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
It’s worth emphasizing that this was a civil case, not a criminal case, and the underlying dispute was and is over congressional access to a lawyer’s emails. I mention this because the judge’s ruling, while dramatic, is not literally a criminal indictment of the former president.
That said, the Jan. 6 committee argued that Trump and Eastman conspired to advance a corrupt scheme and engaged in a conspiracy to impede the transfer of power. After looking at the evidence, a respected and longtime federal jurist agreed.
“Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” Carter wrote. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”
He added, “If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”
At least for now, this means congressional investigators will get the emails Eastman sought to hide. Watch this space.