Federal agents last week seized the cellphone of John Eastman, a lawyer who pushed false claims that mass voter fraud tainted the 2020 election and who urged President Donald Trump and other Republicans to block Joe Biden from becoming president.
That same day, federal agents conducted a search at the Northern Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who Trump considered appointing to run the department because he was willing to further a scheme to declare the election results invalid in some key states.
Both Clark and Eastman played crucial roles in Trump’s efforts in late 2020 and early 2021 to persuade state legislators in about a half-dozen states to replace the electors that Biden had won with electors for Trump. In theory, such a replacement would have kept Trump in the White House.
Monday’s court filings also suggest the Justice Department’s inspector general has become a player in the criminal probes surrounding Jan. 6, because Eastman says his phone was taken by FBI agents acting on behalf of the inspector general. A spokeswoman for the inspector general declined to comment. Burham did not immediately respond to an email seeking further information about the seizure.
The inspector general is an independent entity tasked with rooting out waste, fraud and abuse within the Justice Department. IG investigations examine the conduct of current or former department officials, and the office’s role in this case suggests it may be reviewing the contents of Eastman’s phone as part of a criminal investigation into Clark or others who once worked at the department.
In court papers seeking the return of his phone, Eastman argues that because he was never a Justice Department employee, he is “outside of the OIG’s jurisdiction.”
The court papers say that when Eastman asked to see the warrant, the request was refused. He was frisked, his iPhone taken from him, and he was “forced to provide biometric data to open” the phone, the filing says.
That claim may become a matter of dispute, since the warrant for his phone explicitly states that he may be asked to willingly provide a password or biometric data but cannot be forced to provide that information.
The warrant also suggests federal prosecutors are prepared for a legal fight over the contents of the phone, because it contains a provision that its contents will not be viewed right away by the investigative team.
In his own filing, Eastman notes that his phone contains “emails that have been the subject of an intense, five-month privilege dispute between [himself] and the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.” The court filing also notes that a federal judge in California previously ruled that some of Eastman’s emails are “protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of association, by attorney-client privilege, and/or by the work product doctrine.”
Eastman’s role in the run-up to Jan. 6 and its aftermath has been a key focus of that committee, which has scheduled a hearing Tuesday afternoon with an as-yet unannounced witness or witnesses.
Even as an angry violent mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol, trying to stop lawmakers from tallying the electoral votes that made Biden president, Eastman continued to argue his case for overturning the election results, according to an email exchange from that day. After Pence was escorted out of the Senate for his own safety, a Pence aide, Greg Jacob, sent Eastman a furious email.
“Thanks to your bull----, we are now under siege,” Jacob wrote, according to Eastman.
What was happening at the Capitol “is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened,” Eastman wrote back to Jacob, referring to Trump’s claims of voter fraud.
Eastman sent the email as Pence, who had been presiding in the Senate, was under guard with Jacob and other advisers in a secure area. Rioters were tearing through the Capitol complex, some of them calling for Pence to be executed.
The Jan. 6 committee has also revealed that in an email after Jan. 6, Eastman wrote to former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, saying: “I’ve decided I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.” The committee has aired testimony from other witnesses indicating at least five Republican members of Congress sought pardons from the president in the waning days of his presidency. None of them were issued pardons, nor have they been charged with a crime.