Trump likely committed felony obstruction, U.S. judge says in ordering emails handed to Jan. 6 committee

John Eastman rests his head on his hand.
California attorney John Eastman testifies on Capitol Hill in 2017. He sought to prevent a House committee from accessing his emails regarding the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
(Associated Press)

Former President Trump “more likely than not” attempted to illegally obstruct Congress when he tried to subvert the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021, a federal district court judge determined in a ruling Monday that ordered California lawyer John Eastman to hand over emails to the congressional panel investigating the insurrection.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is based in Santa Ana, broadly stated that Trump likely committed felony obstruction of Congress and that Trump and his then attorney Eastman likely engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct Congress.

“Based on the evidence, the court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter wrote.


“Eastman also understood the gravity of his plan for democracy,” the judge wrote. “... The evidence shows that Dr. Eastman was aware that his plan violated the Electoral Count Act. Dr. Eastman likely acted deceitfully and dishonestly each time he pushed an outcome-driven plan that he knew was unsupported by the law.”

Carter was appointed by President Clinton in 1998.

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March 28, 2022

Eastman, who advised Trump on efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, has been fighting to prevent the committee from seeing the emails, claiming attorney-client privilege. Carter found that only 10 did not have to be turned over. Eastman must provide the committee with the rest of the roughly 100 emails sent between Jan. 4 and Jan. 7, 2021.

Eastman’s attorney, Charles Burnham, said in a statement Monday that Eastman had a “responsibility to protect the confidences of his clients to the fullest extent of the law.”

Eastman’s effort to raise claims on behalf of his clients was “not an attempt to ‘hide’ documents or ‘obstruct’ congressional investigations, as the January 6th committee falsely claims,” he added.

“To be sure, the district court disagreed with many of Dr. Eastman’s privilege assertions,” Burnham said. “He intends to comply with the court’s order.”

After refusing to provide documents to the committee, and pleading the 5th Amendment at his deposition, Eastman sued to block release of emails housed on the server of his former employer, Chapman University in Orange. Nearly 19,000 additional emails sent in 2020 are still under review. He argued that they’re protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege and related legal rules, a blanket claim the judge rejected.


The House committee argued this month before Carter that criminal charges against Trump could be possible, something it first revealed in a court filing as part of Eastman’s suit. In that filing, the committee stated that the emails it sought from Eastman could show that Trump broke multiple laws by seeking to block the certification of Joe Biden’s win despite knowing that his claims of fraud were unfounded.

The committee argued that attorney-client privilege between Eastman and Trump would not apply to evidence demonstrating crime or fraud.

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” Carter wrote in the order. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory.”

Carter noted in his order that he was not tasked with determining whether a crime had been committed. Trump is not named in the lawsuit.

“More than a year after the attack on our Capitol, the public is still searching for accountability,” Carter wrote. “This case cannot provide it. The court is tasked only with deciding a dispute over a handful of emails.”

Eastman is a central figure in the committee’s investigation into Trump’s efforts to subvert the election results. Eastman wrote two legal memos arguing that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to unilaterally reject electoral votes or delay their counting, moves that could have opened the door for Republican-led state legislatures to cast their votes for Trump even though more voters cast their ballots for Biden.


The advice was disregarded by Pence and roundly denounced by legal experts when it became public last year.