John Eastman, the attorney who helped former President Donald Trump pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election, has asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to a letter he delivered to the Jan. 6 committee explaining his decision not to testify.
"Dr. Eastman hereby asserts his Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against himself in response to your subpoena," his attorney, Charles Burnham, wrote in a letter to Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) dated Dec. 1.
"Members of this very Committee have openly spoken of making criminal referrals to the Department of Justice and described the Committee's work in terms of determining "guilt or innocence," Burnham continues. "Dr. Eastman has a more than reasonable fear that any statements he makes pursuant to this subpoena will be used in an attempt to mount a criminal investigation against him."
Eastman's decision is an extraordinary assertion by someone who worked closely with Trump to attempt to overturn the 2020 election results. He met with Trump and pushed state legislative leaders to reject Biden's victory in a handful of swing states and appoint alternate electors to the Electoral College, effectively denying Biden's victory.
The former Chapman University law professor also pressured Pence, who is constitutionally required to preside over the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, to unilterally refuse to count some of Biden's electors and send the election to the full House for a vote - or delay long enough to give states a chance to submit new electors.
Eastman also spoke at Trump's Jan. 6 rally alongside Rudy Giuliani.
Most of Burnham's letter makes procedural objections to the structure of the Jan. 6 committee, focused on Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to reject Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's appointees to the panel.
"The lack of a ranking minority member makes it impossible for this Committee to comply with clearly applicable House rules on subpoenas and depositions," he writes.
Burnham also complains that the Capitol riot committee conducts its depositions in secret.
Eastman, who's also a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, would be the second known Jan. 6 committee witness to plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination. The other, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, revealed his decision to the Jan. 6 panel on the same day Burnham sent his letter. After Clark's last-minute decision, the committee scheduled a Saturday deposition to permit him to formally assert his Fifth Amendment rights and to discuss whether they accept it as a legitimate invocation.
Eastman may face similar questions. His attorney indicated that he does not believe he committed criminal wrongdoing but is nevertheless asserting the Fifth so that his testimony couldn't become part of a future proceeding.
"While Dr. Eastman emphatically denies committing any illegal acts, he nonetheless has a reasonable fear that the requested information could be used against him in court," Burnham writes.
Eastman discussed the letter Thursday on "War Room," the podcast run by Steve Bannon, who has been indicted for refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee. Eastman confirmed on Bannon's show that the letter was delivered on Dec. 1 to Thompson, as well as to McCarthy. He called the Jan. 6 committee a "farce" and urged listeners to donate to his legal defense fund, which has collected more than $50,000 as of Dec. 3.
"We've got to push back on that if we're going to control the direction of our government," Eastman said.
"The Fifth Amendment is there to protect the innocent as well as guilty. You look at the subpoena," Eastman said on Levin's podcast, adding that the panel's subpoena included "29 categories of documents and communications spanning a period of 19 months," as well as contacts in his contact list.