Judge rules Trump plotted a coup, warns nation of potential rerun
Donald Trump salt and pepper shakers. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

LOS ANGELES—Then-GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump plotted a coup to stay in power even after multiple presentations to him showing he lost the 2020 presidential election, a federal judge declared on March 27.

And unless the country becomes—and stays—vigilant, it could see a rerun, “undermining democracy,” U.S. District Judge David Carter of the federal court in Los Angeles warns.

John Eastman. The State Bar of California says it is investigating Eastman, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, for possibly breaking legal and ethical rules relating to the 2020 election. AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File.

Judge Carter’s evaluation came as he ruled against an attempt by John Eastman, a self-described constitutional law expert and a law professor at Chapman University, to keep key documents and e-mails from a subpoena by the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite insurrection and invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

On March 28, Judge Carter rejected Eastman’s case, in scathing language.

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” the judge stated at the end of his 44-page ruling. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower—it was a coup in search of a legal theory.

“The plan spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government”—the Trumpite insurrection—and “led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

Eastman’s own memo deepened that distrust, too, Judge Carter said. That’s because his memo, and Trump’s speech to the crowd, which gathered near the White House on January 6 before thousands of them marched on the Capitol, provided the justification for their attack.

“More than a year after the attack on our Capitol, the public is still searching for accountability. This case cannot provide it,” Judge Carter wrote. “The court is tasked only with deciding a dispute over a handful of e-mails. This is not a criminal prosecution; this is not even a civil liability suit.

“At most, this case is a warning about the dangers of ‘legal theories’ gone wrong, the powerful abusing public platforms, and desperation to win at all costs.

“If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution.

“If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”

Carter ruled on Eastman’s e-mails because the committee’s probe now includes the runup to the invasion, starting just after Trump lost the November election to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Eastman’s key memo to Trump detailed a plan to overturn the electoral votes of six swing states—Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona—plus New Mexico, thus throwing the decision into the U.S. House, where Trump would win on a one-state, one-vote partisan count.

The alternative, Eastman added, would have Vice President Mike Pence toss those seven electoral vote certifications back to the states for a 10-day “recount.”

The Washington Post reported Trump also called in another self-described constitutional law “expert,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for another task—proving one of the alleged “frauds” in arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Cruz confirmed he willingly agreed.

A month before the invasion, Trump faced a potential loss of the “Stop the steal!” case in Pennsylvania. Despite objections from both staffers and top supporters, Cruz agreed to represent Trump should the justices consider the complaints.

But the justices rejected even hearing about them—a”9-0” rejection Eastman forecast in his memo. Cruz’s communications director, who argued strongly against the senator’s involvement, had quit. His top Texas moneyman disavowed Cruz, using social media.

Cruz, the Post added, then bragged he took the lead in trying to stop the electoral vote count on January 6, after realizing that incendiary Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who had addressed the Trumpites, had raised his fist in solidarity with them and urged them on.

Cruz admitted on right-wing social media he led the stop-the-count drive inside the Senate to further his 2024 presidential run. His attempt was short-circuited when the invaders took over, commandeering the Senate chamber and leaving a shambles. Capitol police hustled lawmakers, including Cruz and Hawley, away from danger.

AP photo

While Cruz and Hawley led the legislative charge to overturn the election, Trump, his “war room” and Eastman conspired to do so by convincing Vice President Mike Pence to bounce the election back to the states. Pence refused, publicly.

Then the Trumpites tried to overturn the electoral vote count by invading. Their invasion included seeking out lawmakers and Pence, for retribution. Chants resounded of “Hang Mike Pence!” The invaders had erected a hangman’s noose on the Capitol lawn.

Since the election, the House committee discovered that conspiracy “to commit fraud” on the U.S. by Trump and his cadres, Eastman included. Eastman then claimed lawyer-client privilege for the backup documents and e-mails showing planning and proposals for that conspiracy.

The committee said there’s a “fraud” exception to that lawyer-client privilege, and that Carter couldn’t exercise it in any case, because he was advising Trump on political issues, not legal matters. Carter agreed and ruled for the committee.

The committee is reportedly still debating whether it should subpoena lawmakers who willingly cooperated with Trump—such as Cruz and Hawley—or, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who supposedly tried to get him to call off the invasion.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.