legal

Judge begins reviewing final disputed batch of Eastman emails

John Eastman, the architect of then-President Donald Trump’s last-ditch strategy to overturn the 2020 election, has claimed attorney-client privilege over thousands of exchanges.

A federal judge has begun reviewing 600 emails that attorney John Eastman, the architect of then-President Donald Trump’s last-ditch strategy to overturn the 2020 election, is seeking to shield from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Citing “the urgency of the select committee’s investigation,” U.S. District Court Judge David Carter said he’d begun a document-by-document review to determine whether Eastman’s claims of attorney-client privilege over the emails are legitimate.

Carter has already facilitated the delivery of thousands of pages of Eastman’s emails — held by Chapman University, his former employer — to Jan. 6 investigators. In a landmark ruling in March, Carter also contended that Eastman and Trump likely entered a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election. He described Trump’s plan as a “coup in search of a legal theory” and suggested that Eastman helped fill in the details.

That ruling helped supply the select committee with Eastman’s emails sent and received between Jan. 4 and Jan. 7, 2021. But the committee has continued to fight for tens of thousands of pages Eastman exchanged between Election Day 2020 and President Joe Biden’s inauguration. That fight has boiled down to precisely 601 documents that the committee says are likely to show further inappropriate activities by Eastman and Trump.

Carter is also demanding that Eastman produce voluminous records of his attorney-client relationships related to the emails he’s seeking to shield.

“Evidence may include engagement letters, retainer agreements, or other writings,” Carter wrote. “The evidence shall confirm the timing and scope of each attorney relationship and each agent relationship, including specific named lawsuits if applicable. If there is no written documentation, the Court will accept a sworn statement from an attorney, client, or agent in each relationship attesting that written documentation does not exist and specifying the timing and scope of the relationship.”

Carter has already forced Eastman to reveal details about his attorney-client relationship with Trump. In February, Eastman produced a Dec. 6, 2020, letter he said marked the beginning of his formal representation of Trump. But the document itself was unsigned and the select committee raised doubts about whether and when it was effectuated.

Carter is demanding new details by next week, when he also wants Eastman to submit a 40-page brief arguing for the need to maintain the secrecy of his records. The select committee is due to reply by May 26, with a rebuttal by Eastman due on May 31.

That timeline could give Carter enough time to decide whether to turn over Eastman’s emails to the select committee in time for the panel’s two weeks of public hearings scheduled to begin June 9.