by Ryan King, Breaking News Reporter | March 03, 2022 02:00 AM
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill says investigators have reason to believe former President Donald Trump and his associates broke multiple laws in efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
In a brief filed Wednesday in response to a lawsuit brought by John Eastman, a Trump-linked conservative lawyer, the committee talks of evidence showing that Trump may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, illegally impeding Congress’s counting of electoral votes, and lying to the public.
“As discussed in the Background section above, evidence and information available to the Committee establishes a good-faith belief that Mr. Trump and others may have engaged in criminal and/or fraudulent acts, and that Plaintiff’s legal assistance was used in furtherance of those activities,” the committee wrote in the filing to a California federal court.
The committee cited three key legal violations Trump and his allies, including Eastman, may have committed.
The first was a criminal conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by “interfering with the election certification process, disseminating false information about election fraud, and pressuring state officials to alter state election results and federal officials to assist in that effort.” The second was common law fraud in Washington, D.C., which involves the intentional false representation of fact. The briefing presented documents showing false statements Trump made about the election to the public and to a slew of officials.
The third was Trump’s endeavor to hinder the congressional certification of the 2020 election. At least six judges ruled that Congress’s certification process was “an official proceeding of the United States.” Attempting to obstruct an official proceeding is a crime. The committee accused Trump of illegally requesting then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count the electoral votes and attempting to alter the certification process in several states in order to undermine the certification process.
Eastman filed his lawsuit against the committee seeking to quash a subpoena demanding that he turn over key emails to investigators. He argued that thousands of emails should be withheld due to attorney-client or attorney work-product privileges. The committee countered that Eastman did not have a “legitimate attorney-client relationship” with Trump during the time period in question and that his work was not done in “anticipation of litigation.”
The committee accused Eastman of aiding Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They alleged that he likely engaged in illegal activity similar to Trump, including the effort to impede the certification of the 2020 election.
“The Select Committee is not conducting a criminal investigation. But, as the judge noted at a previous hearing, Dr. Eastman’s privilege claims raise the question whether the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege applies in this situation,” committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney said in a joint statement. “The facts we’ve gathered strongly suggest that Dr. Eastman’s emails may show that he helped Donald Trump advance a corrupt scheme to obstruct the counting of electoral college ballots and a conspiracy to impede the transfer of power.”
Eastman’s lawyer, Charles Burnham, argued that his client had a legitimate obligation to maintain attorney-client privilege and hinted at a rebuttal to the Jan. 6 committee’s court filing.
“Like all attorneys, Dr. John Eastman has a responsibility to protect client confidences, even at great personal risk expense. The Select Committee has responded to Dr. Eastman’s efforts to discharge this responsibility by accusing him of criminal conduct. Because this is a civil matter, Dr. Eastman will not have the benefit of the Constitutional protections normally afforded to those accused by their government of criminal conduct. Nonetheless, we look forward to responding in due course,” he said in a statement.
Although the committee appears to be going further than it ever has before in contending that Trump may have broken the law, the panel would not be the one to prosecute him or anyone else.
“A good faith belief that Trump conspired against the United States is not sufficient to convict him — that would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But it’s more than enough to open a criminal investigation. Has the DOJ done so? Doesn’t look like it,” Politico legal analyst Renato Mariotti tweeted.
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Since its inception, the Jan. 6 committee has set its sights on Trump. Members of the committee including Cheney, one of two Republicans on the panel, hinted that investigators were evaluating whether Trump engaged in criminal behavior following the election. The court filing in the Eastman case will be evaluated by U.S. District Judge David Carter.
Trump is currently a subject in a criminal inquiry by the Fulton County district attorney for his actions as they relate to Georgia after the presidential election. He is also currently battling a court order for him to comply with subpoenas from New York Attorney General Letitia James, and the Trump Organization is facing a separate criminal inquiry from the Manhattan district attorney.