“The Lawyer Behind the Memo on How Trump Could Stay in Office”
John Eastman’s path from little-known academic to one of the most influential voices in Donald J. Trump’s ear in the final days of his presidency began in mid-2019 on Mr. Trump’s favorite platform: television.
Mr. Trump, who had never met Mr. Eastman, saw him on the Fox News talk show of the far-right commentator Mark Levin railing against the Russia investigation. Within two months, Mr. Eastman was sitting in the Oval Office for an hourlong meeting.
Soon, Mr. Eastman was meeting face to face at Mr. Trump’s urging with the attorney general, William P. Barr, and telling him how Mr. Trump could unilaterally impose limits on birthright citizenship.
Then, after the November election, Mr. Eastman wrote the memo for which he is now best known, laying out steps that Vice President Mike Pence could take to keep Mr. Trump in power — measures Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans have likened to a blueprint for a coup.…
After Election Day, Mr. Eastman served as a behind-the-scenes legal quarterback of sorts for Mr. Trump, alarming some of Mr. Trump’s aides, who feared he had found someone to enable his worst instincts at one of the most dangerous moments of his presidency. And it surprised many of Mr. Eastman’s longtime friends and others, who questioned whether his access to power had skewed his vision of reality….
Now, confronting election results that showed Mr. Trump lost, one of Mr. Trump’s aides reached out to Mr. Eastman to see whether he could come over to the hotel to help Mr. Trump’s team.
Mr. Eastman said he was only in the room for 15 minutes before being ushered out — but it was long enough, he said, for him to catch Covid-19 there, and he became ill for several weeks.
In that subsequent meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, Mr. Eastman was the only adviser to the president in the room.
“It started with the president talking about how some of the legal scholarship that had been done, saying under the 12th Amendment, the vice president has the ultimate authority to reject invalid electoral votes and he asked me what I thought about it,” Mr. Eastman said.
“It’s a little bit more complicated than that, that’s certainly one of the arguments that’s been put out there, it’s never been tested,” Mr. Eastman said he replied.
Mr. Eastman said that Mr. Pence then turned to him and asked, “Do you think I have such power?”
Mr. Eastman said he told Mr. Pence that he might have the power, but that it would be foolish for him to exercise it until state legislatures certified a new set of electors for Mr. Trump — something that had not happened.
A person close to Mr. Pence, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the Oval Office conversation, said that Mr. Eastman acknowledged that the vice president most likely did not have that power, at which point Mr. Pence turned to Mr. Trump and said, “Did you hear that, Mr. President?”
Mr. Trump appeared to be only half-listening, the person said.