Trump's 'Coup' Kingpin Rakes in Big Bucks to Stymie Jan. 6 Investigators

GiveSendGo, the Christian right’s version of GoFundMe, is a top platform for Jan. 6 defendants seeking help with legal bills related to the insurrection at the Capitol. “QAnon Shaman” Jake Chansley raised $13,000; Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes has collected (a surprisingly modest) $12,000; Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio has raked in $113,000.

But one of the most successful Jan. 6 crowdfunding efforts is providing a legal war chest for a man who is not a defendant at all. At least not yet.

John Eastman is the far-right attorney who juiced Donald Trump’s last-ditch effort to subvert 2020 election, writing a pair of memos that asserted — contrary to fact — that the election was stolen and that Vice President Mike Pence had secret constitutional superpowers to thwart the counting of the Electoral College vote.

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Eastman has raised nearly $180,000 on GiveSendGo for his “Legal Defense Fund,” in a crowdfunding drive that paints him as a victim of “hard core leftist activists” and “hyper-partisan” investigators. Yet Eastman has strained the “defense” branding — choosing to spend the cash to sue the Jan. 6. committee, while vowing to “go on offense” against his critics.

Eastman tells Rolling Stone that he posted the page to meet MAGA market demand. “A lot of people were asking for ways to help. Pretty simple,” he said in an email. “And, as importantly, it is also a site where people can send prayers of support.”

For his role in spreading the Big Lie and attempting to block certification of Joe Biden’s victory, Eastman is not without legal troubles. The Jan. 6 committee tried to compel his testimony last December, but Eastman stiff-armed investigators with a letter invoking his “right not to be a witness against himself.” When the committee later subpoenaed Eastman’s email records from Chapman University — the Southern California private school where Eastman served as a law professor — Eastman sued to block disclosure.

That litigation succeeded in keeping a few documents out of the public record, but at the cost of sharpening legal risks for both Eastman and his former client, Trump. Federal District Judge David O. Carter assessed Eastman’s claims of attorney-client privilege against the “crime-fraud exception” that voids legal secrecy when a client has sought a lawyer’s help in “the commission of a fraud or crime.”

In a scathing late-March ruling, Judge Carter found that “Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election”; that “the illegality of the plan was obvious”; and that their efforts amounted to “a coup in search of a legal theory.” Judge Carter asserted that the available evidence implicated Trump in serious crimes, and that “it is more likely than not that President Trump and Dr. Eastman dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”

The language of the legal ruling was stark, but neither Trump nor Eastman currently face charges, which would have to be brought by the Justice Department. Eastman’s attorney released a statement insisting that the court “relied on evidence cherry picked by the committee” and was not bound by the standards of criminal proceedings, adding that “Dr. Eastman has an unblemished record as an attorney and respectfully disagrees with the judge’s findings.”

Although not previously a household name, Eastman, 62, has a prodigious right-wing pedigree. He clerked for Clarence Thomas, argued cases at the Supreme Court, and made (unsuccessful) GOP bids for Congress and California attorney general. He’s also served in a leadership role with the Federalist Society and as chairman of the board for the National Organization for Marriage, which long fought to forbid same-sex marriage.

Eastman burst onto the 2020 scene with a widely pilloried Newsweek article arguing that Kamala Harris was not a “natural born citizen” because of her parents’ immigration status at the time of her birth. (The news site later apologized for publishing Eastman’s essay, writing: “All of us at Newsweek are horrified that this op-ed gave rise to a wave of vile Birtherism directed at Senator Harris.”)

In late December 2020, Eastman issued a two-page memo, circulated at the White House, insisting that the Electoral Count Act — which lays out orderly procedures to verify and count certified Electoral College votes — is unconstitutional, and that sole authority for the counting (or not counting) of those votes resides with the vice president. “The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter,” Eastman argued.

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Eastman was brought to the White House as Trump’s new favorite lawyer. He expanded his outré ideas into a six-page memo calling for “BOLD” actions to put in play counting scenarios where “TRUMP WINS.” Trump and Eastman, according to Judge Carter’s ruling, then exhorted Pence to illegally subvert the will of the people, pressing the argument both in person and in speeches made at the Ellipse on the morning of Jan. 6. “The plan not only lacked factual basis but also legal justification,” Carter ruled, adding that simply “believing the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional did not give President Trump license to violate it.”

It is uncommon for an attorney of Eastman’s prominence and connection to turn to crowdfunding to help pay the bills. Eastman no longer works at Chapman University, but he retains a plum post at the Claremont Institute — which, as Rolling Stone has reported, is richly funded by top right-wing billionaire clans including the “DeVoses, Bradleys, and Scaifes.” Eastman’s private legal practice, meanwhile, reportedly counts among its clients a joint fundraising committee for right-wing celebrity Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Regardless, Eastman’s fund has been a hit among the MAGA set, attracting 2,500 donors since it was first posted in late 2021, with an average gift of $70. The success of the fundraising has inflated the campaign’s topline goals. The original aim of $100,000 was quickly hiked to $150,000 and later to $200,000.

A note left by a recent, anonymous $25 donor reveals still-burning anger over the outcome of the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 investigation into the insurrection: “Thank you for standing up to the mob (Pelosi’s committee). We need to see officials refuse to comply with the lawless acts of the Marxists’ tactics,” the donor writes. “Stay strong for our Republic & the rule of law you have steadfastly defended.”

The branding of the crowdfunded “Legal Defense Fund” is questionable. After all, Eastman sued the Jan. 6 committee, not the other way around. And his last note upping the crowdfunding aim reads in part: “A number of you have suggested we increase the goal for this fund in order… to go on offense — perhaps defamation suits against those maliciousy [sic] spreading falsehoods…. This all sounds good to me.” (Crowdfunding campaigns are lightly regulated and Eastman appears to have few limits on how he chooses to spend the cash.)

In an email to Rolling Stone, Eastman defended the “Legal Defense Fund” label as “a quite accurate description” and “not ‘disingenuous’ at all.” He insisted that he’s already “expended over 100K” to respond to the Jan. 6 committee subpoena and to take ”action to block the disclosure of privileged materials” by Chapman — records that Eastman said pertain to “not just Trump, but over 65 other clients.” (Eastman’s legal team recently agreed to release approximately 10,000 pages of post election documents to the Jan. 6 committee.)

In addition to the gifts of cash, Eastman has received more than 1,000 prayers from supporters who clicked the GiveSendGo’s “PRAY NOW” button. He may well need them. The California bar announced in March that it is pursuing an ethics investigation over Eastman’s 2020 election conduct, the beginning of a process that could see Eastman “suspended or disbarred.”

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