People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
People shelter in the House gallery as pro-Trump extremists try to break into the House Chamber at the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“It was a coup in search of a legal theory … The illegality of the plan was obvious.”

Felonies were likely committed by former President Donald Trump and a lawyer advising him on how to overturn the 2020 presidential election outcome, a federal judge said Monday, as Trump spent months casting doubt on the results from Wisconsin and six other states in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on Congress as it tallied electoral votes.

The case involves the effort by attorney John Eastman to resist turning over emails to the congressional committee investigating the insurrection. Judge David Carter ordered most of the material to be handed over because attorney-client privilege claims are not valid if there is the likelihood of a crime being at the heart of the communication.

Carter’s ruling outlines Eastman’s infamous memo detailing how he and Trump believed then-Vice President Mike Pence could refuse to count the electoral votes from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Nevada, and New Mexico—justifying the move in doubts about election integrity despite no evidence of widespread fraud, not at the time and not in the time since.

“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Carter wrote in his ruling. “Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history. 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, led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.” 

“The evidence demonstrates that President Trump likely attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” he concluded. He also said it was likely he and Eastman committed a second felony of attempting to defraud the United States.

Carter spelled out Trump’s numerous attempts “to strong-arm Vice President Pence into following the plan” from Eastman that included “berating him in a speech to thousands outside the Capitol” just prior to the attack on the US Capitol.

The ruling contains a summary of communications during the assault, as Pence and members of Congress took shelter to avoid the mob. The vice president’s attorney Greg Jacob sent an email to Eastman that said the rioters “believed with all their hearts the theory they were sold [by Eastman and Trump] about the powers that could legitimately be exercised at the Capitol on this day. And thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege.”

With some noteworthy exceptions, many Republicans have refused to accept that President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by almost 21,000 votes—despite recounts, a state audit, and court challenges that have upheld the results.