John Eastman, the controversial lawyer who unsuccessfully pressed Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential race, took center stage at the Jan. 6 panel’s third hearing on Thursday that was focused on the pressure campaign against the former vice president.
Eastman emerged in the weeks between the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 riots as one of the most influential voices in Trump’s circle, pushing a dubious claim that the vice president had the authority to reject voters and determine the election winner independently. He appeared at the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse that preceded the insurrection on the other side of the National Mall.
But Thursday’s proceedings suggested there were legions of doubters among Team Trump and Team Pence as Eastman pressed the issue.
Jason Miller, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told the committee in testimony aired Thursday that campaign lawyers Justin Clark and Matt Morgan thought Eastman “was crazy” and said as much to “anyone who would listen.”
Mark Meadows, who was President Trump’s chief of staff at the time, acknowledged Eastman’s plan was illegal, according to Marc Short, who was Pence’s chief of staff.
Tensions were high between Team Trump and Team Pence at the time, but Thursday’s testimony made it clear that members of both groups thought Eastman’s arguments were baseless and could lead to violence.
The Jan. 6 panel argued that is exactly what happened. It showed video on Thursday of Trump pressing Pence to take action at a rally near the White House that preceded the Capitol attack. Other video was shown of participants marching to the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and discussing dragging politicians into the streets.
Eric Herschmann, who worked in the White House counsel’s office in the Trump White House after defending Trump in his first impeachment trial, appeared particularly exasperated with Eastman’s antics.
“Are you out of your ‘effin mind?” Herschmann recalled telling Eastman.
Judge J. Michael Luttig, a conservative legal stalwart whose views shaped Pence’s argument against intervening in the election certification, called Eastman’s theory “constitutional mischief.”
“I would have laid my body across the road witnesses before I would have let the vice president overturn the 2020 election on the basis of that historical precedent,” Luttig told the committee as one of its in-person for Thursday’s hearing.
Luttig was referencing an assertion by Eastman that the 12th Amendment could be interpreted to allow the vice president to determine the winner of an election and reject state electors. Pence and his team ultimately determined the vice president had no such authority.
Greg Jacob, who served as Pence’s general counsel and also appeared in person on Thursday, told the Eastman committee explicitly asked on Jan. 5, 2021, for Pence to reject the states’ electors despite appearing to acknowledge a day earlier that doing so would violate the Electoral Count Act.
Witness testimony also made clear that Eastman was undeterred despite multiple warnings that his idea could lead to violence.
“You’re going to cause riots in the streets,” Herschmann testified telling Eastman, to which he said the attorney responded that there had been “violence in the history of our country to protect the democracy or protect the Republic.”
“I told him, If the courts did not step in there was no one else to resolve it,” Jacob testified of his conversations with Eastman. “That might well be resolved through violence in the streets.”
Luttig, who was not part of the Trump administration on Jan. 6, seemed to agree on the stakes, telling the committee it would have plunged the country to a “revolution” if Pence had gone along with Eastman’s plan.
Eastman joined former New York City Mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani as a former Trump ally highlighted by the committee as a potentially dangerous influence on Trump ahead of Jan. 6.
The committee has made the case in its first three public hearings that Trump and his team laid the groundwork for violence on Jan. 6 by pushing disproven claims about voter fraud and unconstitutional theories about overturning the election.
Committee member Pete Aguilar (D-Texas) said Thursday that Eastman pleaded the 5th Amendment to avoid incriminating himself dozens of times during an appearance before the panel behind closed doors.
Herschmann told the committee he was blunt with Eastman after the events of Jan. 6, saying he wanted to hear only “two words” from Eastman moving forward: “Orderly transition.”
The committee learned that Eastman, perhaps sensing the predicament he was in as violence unfolded on Jan. 6, had reached out to Giuliani about legal protection.
“I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” he wrote in an email shared Thursday by the committee.
Trump did not pardon Eastman before leaving office.