Former Chapman University Law School dean John Eastman was named Monday in a grand jury indictment handed down in Fulton County, Georgia, accusing former President Donald Trump and others of racketeering in an alleged scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Eastman is accused of participating in an alleged scheme to have an alternate slate of electors from Georgia favorable to Trump represent the state in the Electoral College after President Joe Biden won the state, which was key to his victory.
On Tuesday Eastman’s attorney Charles Burnham accused Georgia prosecutors of criminalizing “lawful political speech” in the grand jury indictment.
“The indictment in Georgia vs. Donald Trump and 18 others sets out activity that is political, but not criminal,” Burnham said in a statement. “It goes hand-in-glove with the recent effort to criminalize lawful political speech and legal advice, in stark violation of constitutional rights to freedom of speech, right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and the right to counsel. Lawyers everywhere should be sleepless over this latest stunt to criminalize their advocacy. This is a legal cluster-bomb that leaves unexploded (ordnance) for lawyers to navigate in perpetuity. Dr. Eastman will challenge this indictment in any and all forums available to him.”
In the 98-page indictment, Eastman is accused of sending an email to co-defendant Robert David Cheeley, “unindicted co-conspirator Individual 8, whose identity is known to the grand jury, and (Georgia state Sen. Brandon Beach) in which he stated the Trump presidential elector nominees in Georgia needed to meet on Dec. 14, 2020, sign six sets of certificates of vote, and mail them ‘to the President of the Senate and to other officials.’ This was an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.”
The indictment alleges Cheeley said in an email, “Professor Eastman told me tonight that it is critical that the 16 electors for President Trump meet next Monday and vote in accordance with (the meeting of the Electoral College).”
The indictment also alleges there were attempts to set up a call with the speaker of the state House of Representatives in Georgia and president pro tem of the state senate.
Eastman was also accused of sending another former Trump attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a memo titled “The Real Deadline for Settling a State’s Electoral Votes.” That memo was written by another attorney, Kenneth John Chesebro, who was also named in the indictment in regard to slating alternate electors in Wisconsin, which Biden also won.
The indictment also alleges Trump and Eastman called Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to get help rounding up electors loyal to Trump in the swing states the ex-president lost in 2020.
According to the indictment, Eastman on Dec. 23, 2020, sent an email to Chesebro and another unindicted person with a draft memo about Jan. 6 when Congress was due to certify the electoral college results.
“As for hearings, I think both are unnecessary,” the indictment quotes the memo. “The fact that we have multiple slates of electors demonstrates the uncertainty of either. That should be enough. And I agree with Ken that Judiciary Committee hearings on the constitutionality of the Electoral Count Act could invite counter views that we do not believe should constrain (former Vice President Mike) Pence (or U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley) in the exercise of power they have under the 12th Amendment. Better for them just to act boldly and be challenged, since the challenge would likely lead to the Court denying review on nonjusticiable political question grounds.”
Trump and Eastman filed false documents in violation of Georgia law in a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results with fraud claims, prosecutors allege.
The false statements alleged in the indictment were that 2,506 felons still serving a sentence voted illegally in the presidential election; 66,247 people not old enough to vote cast ballots; 2,423 unregistered voters cast ballots; 1,043 voters cast ballots using a P.O. box as an address; and 10,315 deceased people cast ballots.
“Earlier on the same day, (Eastman) sent an email to attorneys associated with the Trump campaign admitting his knowledge that at least some of the allegations in the verified complaint were not accurate,” the indictment alleges as an act of racketeering.
Eastman discussed part of the discrepancies during his California state Bar disbarment hearings and blamed it on a clerical error from an expert hired for the lawsuit.
The Georgia indictment also accused Eastman of calling Rusty Bowers, speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, urging him to “unlawfully appoint presidential electors from Arizona. During the telephone call, Bowers declined to comply with Eastman’s request and stated that he would not risk violating his oath of office.”
According to the indictment, the Jan. 4, 2021, meeting that included Trump and Eastman attempts to persuade Pence to reject the electoral college votes as head of the U.S. Senate was part of the conspiracy.
“During the meeting, (Eastman) admitted both options (of rejecting the electors or delaying the certification of some) violated the Electoral County Act,” the indictment alleges.
Prosecutors also referred to Eastman’s Jan. 5, 2020, meeting with Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, counsel for the former vice president, again asking Pence to reject the slates of presidential electors from Georgia.
Trump and Eastman were also accused of calling Pence on the same day again urging him to reject the slates of presidential electors or return them to the states to reconsider, the indictment alleges.
The indictment also quotes an Eastman email to Jacob claiming the Senate and House violated the Electoral Count Act debating Arizona objections for more than two hours.
“So now that the precedent has been set that the Electoral Count Act is not quite so sacrosanct as was previously claimed (by Pence), I implore you to consider on more relatively minor violation and adjourn for 10 days to allow the legislatures to finish their investigations, as well as to allow full forensic audit of the massive amount of illegal activity that has occurred here,” Eastman wrote in the email. “If none of that moves the needle, at least a good portion of the 75 million people who supported President Trump will have seen a process that allowed the illegality to be aired.”
Eastman is charged with violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, solicitation of violation of oath by public officer, conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer, conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, conspiracy to commit filing false documents, conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, and filing false documents.
Trump attorneys Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg said in a statement that “the events that have unfolded today have been shocking and absurd, starting with the leak of a presumed and premature indictment before the witnesses had testified or the grand jurors had deliberated and ending with the district attorney being unable to offer any explanation.”
“In light of this major fumble, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office clearly decided to force through and rush this 98-page indictment,” they said. “This one-sided grand jury presentation relied on witnesses who harbor their own personal and political interests — some of whom ran campaigns touting their efforts against the accused and/or profited from book deals and employment opportunities as a result.
“We look forward to a detailed review of this indictment which is undoubtedly just as flawed and unconstitutional as this entire process has been.”
Updated Aug. 16, 2023, 12:37 a.m.