SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The State Bar of California says it is investigating well-known conservative attorney John Eastman for possible ethics violations after the one-time candidate for state attorney general argued former U.S. President Donald Trump could stay in office despite losing the 2020 election.
Eastman, the former dean of Chapman University law school in Southern California, was one of Trump’s lawyers during the election. He wrote a memo that argued former Vice President Mike Pence could keep Trump in power by overturning the results of the election during a joint session of Congress convened to count electoral votes. Critics have likened that to instructions for staging a coup.
Pence refused to do that. But on the day of the vote count, Eastman spoke at a rally of Trump supporters Washington. Shortly after that, Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Trump eventually left office. Since then, a committee of U.S. lawmakers investigating the attack has subpoenaed Eastman, along with nine other former White House aides.
Tuesday, the State Bar of California confirmed it has been investigating Eastman since September for potentially breaking the law and state ethics rules “in relation to the November 2020 presidential election.” Such investigations are usually kept secret, but the State Bar’s rules say it can publicly confirm them “when warranted for protection of the public.”
In a news release, the bar said “details of the investigation must remain confidential” to comply with state law and “give the investigation the greatest chance of success.”
George Cardona, the State Bar’s chief trial counsel, investigates and prosecutes attorney disciplinary matters before the State Bar Court, which can recommend attorneys be either suspended or, in some cases, lose their licenses to practice law. The California Supreme Court ultimately decides what to do.
“A number of individuals and entities have brought to the State Bar’s attention press reports, court filings, and other public documents detailing Mr. Eastman’s conduct,” Cardona said. “We want to thank those who took the time to bring to our attention this information, which serves as the starting point for our investigation.”
The State Bar said Eastman knows about the investigation. But attempts to reach him on Tuesday were unsuccessful. There was no answer at a phone number listed for his law office in Anaheim and no way to leave a message.
Eastman has been a member of the California Bar since 1997, according to the Bar’s website. He was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a law firm affiliated with the Claremont Institute. He ran for California attorney general in 2010, finishing second in the Republican primary.
Eastman was dean of the Chapman University law school from 2007 to 2010, and he was a professor at the school when he retired in 2021 after more than 160 faculty members signed a letter calling for the university to take action against him.
This story has been corrected to show Eastman was a professor of the Chapman University law school when he retired in 2021, not the dean.
Adam Beam, The Associated Press