John Eastman: From California Lawyer to True Trump Supporter

The topic of the third congressional hearing on Jan. 6 the rebellion was unmistakable: John Eastman was not just a minor figure in the commission’s investigation, but also the main character. However, if Eastman had tuned in to this, what was happening might have seemed to him something else – a strange episode of “This is Your Life.”

On the dais was the deputy chairman of the commission, a Republican. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, with whom he studied at the University of Chicago Law School. Another graduate, Greg Jacob, was at the witness table detailing Eastman’s relentless attempts to persuade Jacob’s then-boss, Vice President Mike Pence, to unilaterally block the electoral vote count that would seal a Joe Biden victory.

Testimony for Jacob came from retired federal judge J. Michael Luttig, a key figure in Eastman’s early legal life. Working as Eastman’s clerk for Luttig led to an even longer friendship – with Texas Republican Senator. Ted Cruz and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginny are feed in the investigation.

Beyond the contingency or clubbing of conservative politics, the key figures, institutions, and ideologies of Eastman’s life converged in the January campaign. 6 hearings to a remarkable extent. An analysis of Eastman’s profile nearly 40 years before he became President Trump’s lawyer, as well as interviews with more than a dozen friends and associates, show how Eastman’s seemingly sudden fame took decades to build.

Together they paint a picture of a person with insider connections and outsider instincts pushing the boundaries; a man who has invested his considerable intellect into a political philosophy that, in ever more horrifying terms, sees the country drifting away from its core values.

Eastman, described by his longtime friends, is a good-natured and generous absent-minded professor. Cinematographer and joker. A devout Catholic and a dead man.

Furthermore, after the June 16 hearing, he became the man convicted by his former mentor Luttig, who said under oath and on television that Trump and his allies — and, by implication, Eastman — are a “clear and present danger to democracy.”

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One March evening, in the dreary ballroom of the Buena Park Hotel, Eastman warned an enchanted audience of conservative activists that an “authoritarian moment” had arrived in the country. He blamed the usual opponents of Trump – the organizers of the elections in the battlefield states, Democrats, disloyal Republicans, the media. (Eastman and his attorney initially agreed to be interviewed for this story, but ultimately did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

The speech—a fact-checker’s nightmare of insinuation, carefully curated numbers, and discredited sources—had gaps that cut closer to the point. The Orange County Register, which opposed him after years of citing him as a reliable source. Chapman University, where he taught law for over 20 years until post-Jan. 6 noise led to his resignation. It has now been removed from the faculty directory website.

His delivery was funny and his audience laughed. But his harsh tone when talking about these local institutions underlined the fact that Eastman’s life, built over decades in Southern California, had changed tangibly.

Eastman, 62, moved west after graduating from college to attend Claremont High School, home of influential conservative philosopher Harry Jaffe.

Jaffa, an Abraham Lincoln scholar, is best known for coining the iconic lines in The Senator’s book. Barry Goldwater’s speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention that “extremism in defense of freedom is not a vice” and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue.”

The phrase created a feeling that Goldwater was being too extreme, which contributed to his crushing loss as president. But these lines marked the beginning of a new movement of unbridled conservatism and made Claremont a magnet for Jaffa’s henchmen.

To conservatives, Claremont was a “beacon,” said Terry Hallmark, a former Eastman classmate who now teaches philosophy at the University of Houston. “Because you’d be comfortable thinking what you think and hanging out with like-minded people without being attacked.”

Claremont students bowed to the founding of America and viewed moral relativism and an increasingly powerful state bureaucracy as an existential threat.

“We thought that, from our point of view, there are so many things in the character of the Republic that have fallen into disrepair,” said Stephen Hayward, Eastman’s former roommate in Claremont, now a conservative author and novelist. blogger.

While in graduate school, Eastman met his future wife, Elizabeth, a doctoral student. He also began working at the nearby Claremont Institute, a non-school think tank founded by four Jaffa students that became Eastman’s mainstay for almost a lifetime. intelligent and professional home.

After law school and a job in Washington, he returned to California. He litigated on behalf of the Conservatives from his post, running a law center at the Claremont Institute, and became a professor of law at Chapman University, serving for a time as dean of the law school.

He attracted prominent conservatives such as Thomas and invited my friend John Yu, a former lawyer in the George W. Bush administration and a tenured professor at the University of California at Berkeley, will come to teach, offering Yu a break from the backlash for his involvement in what has become known as the torture memos.

As conservatives in a predominantly liberal legal academia, “you accept that you have to play a role in which you are in the minority,” Yu said. “Maybe that makes you a little… accustomed to dissent.”

Eastman maintained ties to the conservative legal establishment, actively participating in the influential conservative judiciary network, the Society of Federalists, and leading its separation of powers practice group. But he also had an iconoclastic streak, such as his longstanding stance that the 14th Amendment does not guarantee citizenship to people born to non-citizens on U.S. soil.

An interpretation widely dismissed by most lawyers became public during the 2020 election when he wrote an op-ed claiming that Kamala Harris, the Oakland-born daughter of immigrants, was not eligible to be vice president. But for old friends like Hayward, the old Eastman was the argument.

“He’s completely fearless in taking on conventional wisdom,” Hayward said.

Eastman discussed this position, among many others, with Erwin Chemerinsky, who was his amiable liberal radio sparring partner for 15 years under the moniker “The Smart Guys.”

“The attraction was that we could discuss very controversial issues, but always very politely,” said Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

However, some who encountered Eastman as a political campaigner found him less honest.

In a losing bid for California Attorney General in 2010, Eastman sought designation on the ballot or “assistant attorney general” to improve your chances. Catch: This was based on his work on one case in South Dakota. Soon the judge rejected his attempt.

It is hardly unusual for candidates to attempt ballot fraud. But Kevin Spillane, campaign manager for eventual GOP nominee Steve Cooley, said Eastman’s actions had damaged his reputation as a respected entity.

“When he went to such dishonest and outrageous efforts to actually lie to voters, that tells you everything you need to know about his character,” Spillane said.

Around the same time, Eastman became the public face of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that promoted Proposition 8 of 2008 to ban same-sex marriage in California. He led the organization long-term battle keep his donor list secret, which led to string of losses as well as fines for violation state disclosure laws.

John Eastman testifies on Capitol Hill.

As chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, John Eastman insisted that her sponsors be kept secret and sued the IRS when the list of donors was leaked.

(Charles Dharapack/Associated Press)

Fred Karger, a gay Republican activist who diligently searched for the group’s financial records, said he saw a pattern in Eastman’s actions then and in the current congressional investigation.

“He has a history of lying and undermining our electoral laws as best he can,” Karger said.

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Eastman undoubtedly takes center stage in Jan. 6 investigation, people in his orbit struggle with how long he should stay in their lives.

Chemerinsky publicly called on the California Bar to investigate Eastman. started this spring and he resolved never to share accounts with Eastman again.

His last radio show with Eastman in October 2020 still bothered him over a year later.

“That was the first time I argued with him when he wasn’t being polite. I felt like I was debating with Donald Trump,” Chemerinsky said.

Jeremy Rosen, a Los Angeles appellate attorney and member of the Federalist Society, said he also noticed gradual pre-Trump changes in his former friend.

“He went from a happier warrior to an angry warrior over time,” said Rosen, who immediately after Jan. Assault 6 called for the Federalist Society to remove Eastman from leadership and public engagements. In Eastman, he saw a symbol of the growing anger in the politics of the country as a whole.

But others did not keep their distance. Ryan P. Williams, president of the Claremont Institute, praised Eastman on Twitter as “a patriot concerned about oligarchic corruption in America.” (Williams did not respond to requests for comment.)

Eastman remains a senior fellow at the institute, who, after decades of being on the geographic and intellectual fringe of the right, found new prominence during the Trump years. The think tank’s acceptance of shocks and crises as necessary for America’s entry into the update is clearly aligned with the president breaking the rules.

The Claremonsters, as they call themselves, use apocalyptic rhetoric to convey mind-boggling stakes as they see them, or at least get people’s attention.

This catastrophic point of view resulted in Jan. 6 hearings, when former White House attorney Eric Herschmann said in testimony that he warned Eastman that his scheme to force the vice president to invalidate the election “would cause riots in the streets.”

“As well as [Eastman] said words like this: “There has been violence in the history of our country, Eric, to defend democracy or to defend the republic,” Herschmann said.

Eastman was so committed to this line of thinking that he continued to look for ways to undo Trump’s defeat, even in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the US Capitol. He unsuccessfully asked Trump for a pardon and is now potentially at risk of criminal prosecution.

“Unfortunately, he drank the Kool-Aid that President Trump was selling – that the election was rigged,” Yu said.

But in the ballroom of the hotel in Buena Park, Eastman showed no sign of doubt.

“My old professor used to say that if you don’t get hit by flak, then you are not over the target,” he told his audience. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think I’ve been right over the target for quite some time now.”

Conservative activists made it clear with thunderous applause and sincere laughter that they agreed.