This adds even more pressure on the Justice Department to pursue a criminal case.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection just saw a significant breakthrough: A federal judge ruled that former President Donald Trump and his former lawyer John Eastman “more likely than not” committed crimes in trying to overturn the 2020 election.
In a blistering 44-page ruling, U.S. District Judge David Carter said there was enough evidence to suggest that the duo committed obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” wrote Carter, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton. “Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the Vice President to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election.”
What’s the context for this judge’s ruling?
The dispute centered around a trove of documents that Eastman had refused to turn over to the House select committee as part of its probe into the Jan. 6 attack. While Trump’s former lawyer claimed the documents were protected under attorney-client privilege, Judge Carter found that all but 10 of them should be turned over to investigators, including more than 100 emails.
Judge Carter also summarized some documents that Eastman had sought to block, such as a draft memo that laid out a six-step plan for how then-Vice President Mike Pence to stop President Biden’s win by throwing out electors from seven states. When Pence ultimately refused to go along with the scheme, Trump responded by attacking him on Twitter.
“The draft memo pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act, and Dr. Eastman’s later memos closely track its analysis and proposal,” the judge wrote.
What else did the ruling say?
Carter shot down Trump’s legal justification for trying to subvert the election, saying that the former president was well aware that his claims of election fraud were bogus and that the plan he’d developed with Eastman was obviously illegal.
“President Trump and Dr. Eastman justified the plan with allegations of election fraud — but President Trump likely knew the justification was baseless, and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful,” he wrote in his decision.
The judge also made a bold plea for accountability for those involved in trying to subvert the election, warning that if nothing is done to bring them to justice, the U.S. is doomed to having another insurrection.
“If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution,” Carter wrote. “If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”
Does this mean Trump will face criminal charges?
While this ruling is significant, it doesn’t have a direct impact on whether Trump will face criminal charges over his efforts to undermine the election because that decision is up to the Justice Department. Still, it may put further pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to lead an investigation that could lead to such charges. So far, Garland has promised to probe legal violations related to Jan. 6 “at any level,” but further developments on that remain unclear.
Even though Eastman intends to comply with the judge’s order, Trump’s spokesperson Taylor Budowich called the ruling “absurd” and dismissed it as “another example of how the left is weaponizing every branch of government against President Trump.”