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Opinion

Bookman: Eastman’s law license suspension suggests peril for Trump, allies in Georgia RICO case

Credit: iStock

by Jay Bookman, Georgia Recorder
April 4, 2024

So far, Donald Trump and his fellow defendants in the Fulton County election-racketeering case have managed to turn the spotlight away from their own alleged misdeeds to those of District Attorney Fani Willis. (And yes, Willis herself has helped make that possible.)

However, events last week in California involving John Eastman, a Trump lawyer, co-defendant and central figure in the alleged conspiracy, suggest that this reprieve may be temporary.

After a lengthy trial, a state bar judge in California found that Eastman “conspired with President Trump to obstruct a lawful function of the government of the United States; specifically, by conspiring to disrupt the electoral count on January 6, 2021…for purposes that are unlawful, criminal, or fraudulent.”

As a result of his involvement in that criminal conspiracy, Judge Yvonne Roland suspended Eastman’s law license and recommended that the suspension be made permanent, a decision that will be made later by the California Supreme Court.

Eastman’s actions here in Georgia figured prominently in that decision.

In her ruling, Roland found that Eastman had submitted false filings to the U.S. Supreme Court and to the U.S. district court in north Georgia. In both cases, Eastman and Trump were attempting to toss some or all of the 5 million votes cast legally by Georgia citizens.

In those filings, Eastman had claimed that more than 66,000 underage voters had cast ballots in Georgia. It was a lie. He claimed that up to 2,560 inmates had voted illegally. That was a lie. He claimed that more than 10,000 dead people had voted in Georgia. They did not.

The bar judge in California also found that Eastman had conspired with Trump to strong-arm Vice President Pence into refusing to count the electoral votes of Georgia and several other swing states, which would have swung the election to Trump.

In defending his actions, Eastman told the California bar that he had a First Amendment right to speak out on such issues, and that as Trump’s lawyer he had a duty to provide “zealous advocacy” on behalf of his client. Those are the same claims that Eastman has offered in defending himself against charges here in Fulton County.

However, the California judge bought neither argument. The First Amendment, Judge Roland wrote, “does not protect speech that is employed as a tool in the commission of a crime….” And while attorneys do have a duty to advocate zealously for their clients, they also have the duty to tell the truth while doing so.

“Vigorous advocacy does not absolve Eastman of his professional responsibilities around honesty and upholding the rule of law,” she wrote.

Until his involvement with Trump, Eastman had enjoyed a national reputation as a conservative constitutional expert. With his likely disbarment, that is now gone. In fact, it has been remarkable to see how many people of considerable credentials have thrown away their careers, reputations and perhaps even their freedom on behalf of a man as flawed as Trump.

You can say many bad things about Trump; trust me, I’ve said most of them. But the man is not a hypocrite. He makes no pretense of high moral standards that he later violates; he claims no loyalty to principles or causes other than his own. There’s a peculiar, straightforward honesty to his dishonesty. It’s part of what some people see as his charisma.

The Trump movement, on the other hand, is neck deep in hypocrisy. In Trump’s service, constitutional scholars such as Eastman will twist and shred the very document they claim to revere. Evangelicals will set aside the faith by which they define themselves to defend a man who this week is sitting in a New York courtroom, trying to explain why he paid hush money to a porn star. Self-proclaimed patriots who wave flags and chant “America First” will attack the seat of our American republic, using those flags as lances against police officers. And because the human capacity for self-deception is so vast, few of them recognize how completely they have sold out what they supposedly hold so dear until it’s too late.

In a footnote to her 128-page ruling, the judge in California references a telling email exchange between Eastman and Rudy Giuliani. In the email, sent on Jan. 11, five days after the failed insurrection, Eastman seems almost melancholic. Their battle to overthrow the election has been lost, and the realization is sinking in that maybe they went too far, maybe there are repercussions coming.

First, Eastman tells Giuliani, two universities where he teaches have begun asking uncomfortable questions about his actions. Second, in an indication of how deep into delusion he has sunk, he asks Rudy to send along all the evidence he possesses proving it had been antifa, not MAGA, that had been responsible for inciting violence at the Capitol.

“Third, I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” he writes Rudy. At that moment he saw what his future might hold, but by then it was too late.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence.

This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.