FBI seizes phone of controversial Trump lawyer John Eastman

The number of people who were involved in trying to execute Donald Trump’s post-election plot was fairly large, and included Republicans working at the local, state, and federal level. But the number of people involved in concocting the anti-election scheme was relatively small.

Inside the administration, the former president had Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division, whom Trump wanted to serve as acting attorney general as part of the plan to subvert our democracy. Last week, federal investigators descended on Clark’s home as part of the Justice Department’s investigation.

But outside the administration, the former president had a different lawyer, John Eastman, who also served as a key architect in the Republican’s anti-election plot. What we did not know until yesterday was that on the same day as the law enforcement activity surrounding Clark, Eastman was also approached by the feds. NBC News reported on Eastman acknowledging in a court filing that federal agents seized his phone.

In papers filed in federal court in New Mexico, Eastman said he was stopped last week in New Mexico by federal agents who executed a search warrant and seized his phone. He said FBI agents stopped him Wednesday evening as he was walking to his car after having had dinner at a restaurant with his wife and a friend. The agents patted Eastman down, seized his phone and “forced” him to unlock it, he said.

The warrant authorized seizure of “any electronic or digital device — including cell phones, USB devices, iPads, and computers identified in the affidavit — and all information in such devices,” the court filing said.

We now know these details, not because of a disclosure from the Justice Department, but because Eastman has filed a lawsuit, seeking to have the search warrant thrown out, and asking that officials return his phone.

In case this isn’t obvious, the apparent fact that federal agents were executing a search warrant suggests that a judge found enough evidence of possible criminal misconduct to sign off on a warrant.

As for readers asking, “Wait, which one is John Eastman?” let’s revisit our recent coverage and review why he’s so significant in the larger scandal.

In theory, we should barely be aware of the Republican lawyer’s existence. After all, before joining Team Trump — the then-president saw him on Fox News and was impressed — Eastman was a rather obscure figure.

Even after Donald Trump’s defeat, Eastman, at least on paper, shouldn’t have been especially relevant. He didn’t work in the White House counsel’s office. He wasn’t the attorney general. He had no office in the Justice Department. Eastman was, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described him on the air last week, a well-credentialed crank.

But the radical lawyer had one important thing going for him: The sitting president of the United States was eager to buy what Eastman was selling, and everyone around Trump quickly realized that the attorney’s views represented their boss’ views.

As a matter of law and politics, the lawyer may have been a fringe operator, better suited for a role on a far-right, C-list podcast than a seat in the Oval Office, but in the aftermath of Election Day 2020, Trump didn’t much care.

Why not? Because as the Jan. 6 committee’s recent hearings have helped prove, Eastman helped concoct an illegal scheme — a scheme Eastman knew to be illegal — that the then-president saw as an avenue to keeping power he hadn’t legitimately earned.

Eastman was not, however, merely a behind-the-scenes author of a ridiculous memo. The Republican lawyer also effectively played the role of a lobbyist, advocating on behalf of a plot he recognized as illegal, pleading with officials to go along with his plot, and even appearing at a pre-riot Jan. 6 rally to espouse his outlandish ideas to Trump’s radicalized followers.

Told that the execution of his coup scheme would likely lead to civil unrest and violence in American streets, Eastman was indifferent. Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified to the Jan. 6 committee that he told Eastman that his approach would lead to riots, adding, “And he said words to the effect of, ‘There has been violence in the history of our country, Eric, to protect the democracy or protect the republic.’”

Herschmann told him to hire a criminal defense attorney, because he’d need one. Days later, Eastman sent Rudy Giuliani an email, declaring, “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.”

In other words, Eastman feared prosecution, which was hardly an unreasonable concern given his role in a coup attempt. What’s more, it also helps explain why, when the GOP lawyer agreed to sit down with investigators, he pleaded the Fifth a hundred times.

Given his interaction with the FBI last week, it seems he was right to be worried.