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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Federal agents seized phone of John Eastman, key figure in Jan. 6 plan

John Eastman, left, appeared on video during the House select committee hearings on the events of Jan. 6. last week in Washington.

By Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman

Federal agents armed with a search warrant have seized the phone of John Eastman, a lawyer who advised former President Donald Trump on key elements of the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, according to a court filing by Eastman earlier this week.

The seizure of Eastman’s phone is the latest evidence that the Justice Department is intensifying its sprawling criminal investigation into the various strands of Trump’s efforts to remain in power after he was defeated for reelection.

In the past week alone, the department has delivered grand jury subpoenas to a variety of figures with roles in backing Trump’s efforts and carried out at least one other search of a key figure.

The filing by Eastman, a motion to recover property from the government, said FBI agents in New Mexico, acting on behalf of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, stopped Eastman as he was leaving a restaurant last Wednesday and seized his iPhone. A copy of the warrant included as an exhibit in Eastman’s filing said the phone would be taken to either the Justice Department or the inspector general’s forensic lab in northern Virginia.

According to the filing, the seizure of Eastman’s phone came on the same day that federal agents raided the home and seized the electronic devices of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who was central to Trump’s attempts to coerce the department’s leaders into backing his false claims of fraud in the election.

The inspector general’s office, which has jurisdiction over investigations of Justice Department employees, also issued the warrant in the search of Clark’s home, a person familiar with the investigation said. The warrant indicated that prosecutors are investigating Clark for charges that include conspiracy to obstruct the certification of the presidential election, the person familiar with the investigation said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, which is overseeing the inquiry, declined to comment on Eastman’s court filing.

With Eastman and Clark, the department is gathering information about two lawyers who were in close contact with Trump in the critical weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The advice they were giving Trump involved separate but apparently intersecting proposals to provide him with a means of averting his defeat, with Clark focused on using the power of the Justice Department on Trump’s behalf and Eastman focused on disrupting the congressional certification of the election’s outcome.

The search warrant executed on Eastman by the inspector general’s office may have been issued because of his connections to Clark, which were briefly touched on at a hearing by the Jan. 6 House select committee last week, a day after the raids on the two men.

At the hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the panel’s vice chair, said Ken Klukowski, a Justice Department lawyer who was in contact with Eastman, also helped Clark draft a letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp stating falsely that the Justice Department had identified “significant concerns” about the “outcome of the election” in Georgia and several other states.

The letter further recommended that Kemp call a special session of the state legislature to create “a separate slate of electors supporting Donald J. Trump.”

Klukowski, who briefly served under Clark at the Justice Department and had earlier worked at the White House budget office, also “worked with John Eastman,” Cheney said during the hearing. She went on to describe Eastman as “one of the primary architects of President Trump’s scheme to overturn the election.”

The inspector general’s office has the authority to look into any public corruption crimes committed by Justice Department personnel, said Michael Bromwich, a former department inspector general during the Clinton administration.

“Those investigations can lead to people and places outside the Justice Department,” Bromwich said. “There must be a connection between Eastman and someone who worked at the department.”

A former law professor in California, Eastman helped develop and promote a brazen plan to justify having Vice President Mike Pence single-handedly block or delay certification of the Electoral College results showing Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. In a series of meetings and phone calls, Trump and Eastman pressured Pence to put the plan into action when Pence presided over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pence’s refusal to go along helped fuel the violence that overwhelmed the Capitol that day and became a bloody symbol of Trump’s efforts to subvert the outcome of the election. Earlier this year, a federal judge in California considering a civil suit concerning the release of Eastman’s emails to the House select committee concluded that Eastman and Trump most likely committed two felonies — obstruction of a proceeding before Congress and a conspiracy to defraud the United States — for their joint role in the pressure campaign against Pence.

Eastman was also instrumental in advising Trump to create purported slates of electors backing Trump in key swing states won by Biden. These false pro-Trump electors were intended to give Pence a quasi-legal rationale for delaying or blocking the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, or even trying to throw the election to the House of Representatives.

Last week, a federal grand jury in Washington issued subpoenas to several people who prosecutors believe may have information about the so-called fake elector plan. Among those who received subpoenas were top Republicans in key swing states who served as purported pro-Trump electors, including Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, and David Shafer, chair of the Georgia Republican Party.

The subpoenas, some of which have been obtained by The New York Times, show that prosecutors are seeking information about lawyers such as Eastman who were close to Trump during the chaotic postelection period. The subpoenas also seek information on other lawyers such as Rudy Giuliani, who oversaw Trump’s election challenges in general, and Kenneth Chesebro, who wrote legal memos laying out the viability of the fake elector plan.

In Eastman’s court papers, filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, he says the search warrant did not mention what underlying crime prosecutors were looking into by seizing his phone.

On Monday night, Eastman appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and discussed the seizure of his phone, repeating his complaint that the warrant never specified what violation of the law prosecutors were investigating.

“There was no indication of any crime this is connected to,” he said.

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