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A pro-Trump attorney involved in overturning the 2020 election was on trial this week

MILES PARKS, HOST:

The attorney John Eastman was a key player in Donald Trump's legal effort to overturn the 2020 election. That work has now landed Eastman in a courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, where the State Bar of California is trying to revoke Eastman's law license. In a way, this case is putting 2020 election denial on trial. NPR's Tom Dreisbach has been in the courtroom, and he's been covering the case all week.

Hi, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

PARKS: So there were a lot of lawyers working with Trump to challenge the 2020 election a few years ago. Can you remind us what Eastman's role was?

DREISBACH: Yeah. So if people remember the pro-Trump rally on January 6 just before the Capitol riot, Eastman was this guy on stage at that rally wearing a kind of Indiana Jones-type hat, standing alongside Rudy Giuliani. And at the rally, he made this just baseless claim that the voting machines had a, quote, "secret folder" of votes that was used to steal the election from Trump.

Now, Eastman was also behind the scenes, this architect of a plan for Vice President Pence to stop the count of Electoral College votes and block Biden's victory. So he was both filing lawsuits that included some of these fraud claims and voting irregularities and, at the same time, was advancing the legal theory that Pence could overturn the election and working on sending alternative or fake pro-Trump slates of electors to the Electoral College. Now, after the insurrection on January 6, Eastman wrote an email to Rudy Giuliani asking for Trump to add him to a list of pardons he heard was going around. But ultimately, Eastman did not receive that pardon.

PARKS: OK. And so how is the state of California making the case that Eastman should lose his license for all of this?

DREISBACH: Well, the state bar says, for one thing, that Eastman was either knowingly making false claims of election fraud or he was willfully blind to the fact that the information he was sharing was false. And that goes against professional responsibilities for lawyers.

Now, this week we heard testimony from Greg Jacob. He was a counsel to Vice President Pence. Behind the scenes, he was pushing back on the Eastman plan. And Jacob testified that Eastman admitted to him that if they actually tried Eastman's plan for Pence to stop the Electoral College count, that the Supreme Court would overrule them 9 to nothing. In other words, the state bar is trying to show Eastman knew this plan was unconstitutional, and he tried it anyway. And Jacob also testified, importantly, that he thought Eastman's plan helped contribute to the riot itself.

PARKS: Right. I remember Jacob testifying during the January 6 Commission hearings as well. So the state bar is still making its case, but any idea what Eastman's defense is going to be?

DREISBACH: Right. So we've got the state bar's case, which includes a lot of election officials testifying that the election was safe and secure and there was no widespread fraud. Eastman's list of witnesses includes some pretty well-known election deniers, people you've covered, Miles, you know, suggesting that Eastman wants to put the election itself on trial to some extent. You know, he wants to show that he had a good faith reason to believe there was election fraud.

On the witness list for Eastman is a guy named Mark Finchem. He's a far-right Arizona politician, member of the Oath Keepers, and a prominent election denier. Another guy in the witness list is a CPA, not an election expert, a guy who wrote an e-book about the 2020 election. And finally, also Douglas Frank, who's a former high school teacher, now travels around the country doing presentations about why he thinks the election was stolen.

PARKS: Wow. So, yeah, I mean, that is really, like, a greatest hits of election denial folks from the last few years. How is this all going to play? 'Cause I know the legal world has not had much patience for these sorts of theories in the past.

DREISBACH: I talked to one legal expert who said, you know, Eastman does really face an uphill battle here. The scheme also where alternate or fake pro-Trump electors were sent to the Electoral College, that is now under federal criminal investigation. So the FBI actually seized Eastman's phone last year as part of that. Now, these fraud claims have also just been debunked again and again. One of the claims Eastman relied on came from a guy with a criminal record, with a side gig as a, quote, "amateur ghost hunter." And Eastman testified in court that he was not aware of the ghost hunting. I'm eager to see what happens next week. Now, that's when we expect Eastman to present his defense case and see his witnesses get questioned under oath.

PARKS: These proceedings are being pretty widely watched around the country. Why do you think that is?

DREISBACH: You know, I think over the last two years, we've seen a lot of legal consequences for people who breached the U.S. Capitol and actually rioted in the building. But we have not seen a lot of legal consequences for the politicians and lawyers who led the so-called Stop the Steal movement. And so I think a lot of people are wondering, will there be consequences for someone like John Eastman, who was working on that movement behind the scenes and even at the rally on January 6? Or will the judge decide, you know, as Eastman would like, that he was just zealously advocating for his client, Donald Trump?

PARKS: NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Thank you so much for covering this.

DREISBACH: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.