John Eastman says he's innocent and he told us if he was ever guilty of anything it was giving bold legal advice to Donald Trump. Eastman was a little-known law professor who found himself at the center of history—among the architects of President Trump's bid to stay in power. One judge called Eastman's strategy "a coup in search of a legal theory." Today Eastman faces nine criminal counts in. And we found he's still handing out bold legal advice—this time to himself. facing possible years in prison he agreed to talk with us.
John Eastman: Well, that was the first advice I got from my legal team when I put them together, is that we don't talk about anything. In normal times, that's the right advice for lawyers to give their criminal defendant clients. Um, but I quickly determined that this fight was much more about the criminal law, the specific law, and a public fight. We did nothing wrong. And it's important to counteract the false narratives on that because all of my actions were designed to investigate illegality in the election to see if they had an impact.
Sixty three-year-oldgraduated from the University of Chicago Law School, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and was dean of Chapman University's law school in California. He views the world from the far right and has said the political left is an existential threat.
John Eastman: We're no longer disagreeing about means to get to shared ends. We've got wings of the two parties that disagree fundamentally on the ends and the purpose of our government.
Scott Pelley: Existential, you said.
John Eastman: Well, I do think existential, I think what we're seeing now in the criminalization of political opposition and the threat to shutting down speech of opposing political views, um, means that the people are no longer in charge of the direction of their government.
In November 2020, Eastman joined Rudy Giuliani's effort to persuade seven states to withhold certification of Joe Biden's victory.
Rudy Giuliani at hearing: There's a plethora of evidence that you can go through that will convince you that this election was stolen.
Eastman testified on Zoom to lawmakers in Georgia. He said state election officials hadn't followed the law. And he leveled dubious claims of fraud including votes by 2,500 felons and 10,000 dead people.
John Eastman during testimony: Something is amiss here, and that the legislature simply must investigate as you are doing with this hearing today.
But not one state agreed to withhold certification of its vote. Fiftywere failing. By January, the deadline was at hand.
On January 6th, electoral votes from the states are counted before a joint session of Congress. The Constitution appoints the vice president to "open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted." But two days before the count, Eastman came to this Oval Office meeting with a radical interpretation of those words. Vice President Pence, he said, had the power to stop the count and return the votes to the states for reconsideration.
John Eastman: To delay. To let them finish their investigative work and make a determination on whether the illegality had affected the outcome of the election and if it didn't, to report back so that we could have some more certainty about the validity of the Biden electors. But if it did, then we wanted to make sure that the person who actually won the election was the one that was certified.
Greg Jacob: No vice president had ever exercised this authority. No vice president had ever claimed to have the power to exercise this authority.
was Vice President Pence's legal counsel. He was in the Oval Office hearing Eastman read between the lines of the Constitution.
Greg Jacob: So it really was him inventing something without any historical roots or any historical foundations and then desperately trying to find some hook in the constitutional text that neither history, nor structure, nor practice, nor common sense supported.
Eastman disagreed with that and even predicted that the courts might not intervene.
Greg Jacob: If the courts stayed out of it, there is no other actor to decide that issue. And I expressed to Professor Eastman at our meeting the next morning, on January 5th, that if it's not the courts, it's effectively gonna be decided in the streets.
Greg Jacob told us Vice President Pence never believed he had the power to do anything but open and read the certified votes. Back in 2001, Pence was a freshman congressman when Vice President Al Gore read the votes that denied Gore the presidency in one of the closest elections of all time.
Scott Pelley: Did you see, at any point in this period, the vice president reconsider that view or waver--
Greg Jacob: No-
Scott Pelley: in that determination?
Greg Jacob: No. The vice president never wavered. It never made sense to him that the vice president would be empowered to decide issues like that by the framers. And he said, "Look, I know the rules that judges have to follow. You would never allow a judge to preside over and decide an issue when they have the kind of interest that I have in this case. I'm on the ticket. Obviously, I want us to win this election. How could it possibly be proper for the vice president of the United States to decide such an important question in which-- he has a personal interest like that?"
Scott Pelley: Were there other lawyers in the White House who agreed with Eastman, or was he out there alone?
Greg Jacob: I was not aware of any lawyers who agreed with him.
But one person did agree.
Then President Donald Trump (at a 2021 Georgia rally): And I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you…
The day of the Eastman meeting, Mr. Trump raised expectations that Pence could flip the election.
Then President Donald Trump (at a 2021 Georgia rally): …'course if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much…
In a press release, the day before the count, Mr. Trump said, "the vice president and I are in total agreement that the vice president has the power to act."
Scott Pelley: When you saw that statement, what did you think?
Greg Jacob: I was outraged, because I knew it was categorically false. I knew that the Vice President had conveyed multiple times to the President what his position was. And I knew that the statement was not accurate.
On, John Eastman told the president's rally that Georgia voting machines were rigged.
John Eastman: You know the old way was to have a bunch of ballots sitting in a box under the floor and when you needed more you pulled them out in the dark of night. They put those ballots in a secret folder in the machines…
That was false, and so were claims Eastman made to the Georgia legislature—according to an investigation by Georgia's Republican secretary of state who, himself, had voted for Trump.
Scott Pelley: You said 2500 convicts, the investigation found four. You said 10,000 dead voters, the investigation found four. It doesn't seem like you knew what you were talking about.
John Eastman: You've now mischaracterized my testimony and I'm not looking to let you get away with that. Uh, but they were based on the expert analysis. And it didn't say 2,500 felons voted. It said, "as many as." It acknowledged the limitation of the data they had. And the analysis that was conducted, contrary analysis that was provide by the secretary of state, was simply a press conference. I'd love to see the data and we will adjust the numbers as the complaint that was filed the next day said we would once we got the additional data.
Scott Pelley: Too late to adjust the numbers now. You've already testified to the legislature, and there's a big difference between as many as 2,500 and the actual number of four.
John Eastman: Well, we don't know the actual number is four because the secretary of state has declined to give us the information on which that analysis was based.
We wondered, if Eastman believes there's so much evidence, why has no state reported fraud that would overturn its election result.
John Eastman: I think we are quickly, um, turning into a country where there's the pro-government party, or the Uni party, one might euphemistically call it. Uh, and folks that are concerned about the direction our country is going, the MAGA movement, the tea party movement before that if you will and the folks in those government offices tend to be on the one side of that dispute rather than the other.
Scott Pelley: And you say they're covering it up.
John Eastman: Well, certainly they're not investigating it to the level I think the evidence warrants.
Further investigation was pursued -- by Georgia prosecutors. a grand jury indicted, including the former president, alleging a conspiracy to overturn the election, including false statements "...to persuade Georgia legislators to reject lawful electoral votes..."
With only hours to go before the count at the Capitol, Eastman's dubious reading of the Constitution became an ultimatum.
John Eastman: And all that we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at 1 o'clock, he let the legislatures of the state look into this so we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it, does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.
Hours later — after the president's speech —were stalking Mike Pence.
Greg Jacob, the vice president's counsel, was in the capitol as Pence was reading, not judging, the vote.
Greg Jacob: We started hearing "boom," "boom," "boom." And all of a sudden, glass shattered.
The riot stopped the count. In the moment, Jacob sent emails to John Eastman. "...thanks to your bull****, we are now under siege." He called Eastman "...a serpent in the ear of the president..." The violence caused the vote count to take longer than the rules allow. So, Eastman wrote back to Jacob with a plea; since the rules were broken already, why not break one more and send the votes back to the states.
Greg Jacob: The people who stormed the building believed that the vice president had authorities that he in fact did not have and that that was a motivating factor for them in storming the building. And after you see all of that actually play out, the kind of practical implications that I had expressed to him on the fifth, "If the courts don't decide this, is it gonna be decided in the streets?" Well, the streets had come to us. And he still wanted us to go ahead and push ahead with his theory.
Scott Pelley: Which told you what about John Eastman?
Greg Jacob: He was mostly concerned with the results and didn't really care how many laws had to be broken to get there.
Eastman was forced to retire as a professor at Chapman university. He asked to get on the president's pardon list, but that didn't happen. Today, he's fighting disbarment in california. And this past August, he turned himself in, in Georgia and has.
Scott Pelley: Who is the John Eastman that we see in the mugshot?
John Eastman: The John Eastman you see in that mugshot is one who remains astounded that we have so, corrupted our criminal law that this is even brought. I hope in the fullness of time, we get our acts together and understand this is a bridge too far in our criminalization of the law and our criminalization of our political opposition.
Last year, Democrats and Republicans passed an electoral count law. It now clarifies the vice president's role is to read, not judge, the votes.
Produced by Aaron Weisz and Sarah Koch. Associate producers, Ian Flickinger and Madeleine Carlisle. Broadcast associate, Michelle Karim. Edited by April Wilson.
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