WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday asserted it is “more likely than not” that former President Donald Trump committed crimes in his attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election, ruling to order the release of more than 100 emails from Trump adviser John Eastman to the committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Carter marked a major legal win for the House panel as it looks to correspondence from Eastman, the lawyer who was consulting with Trump as he attempted to overturn the presidential election.
“Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter, who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, wrote in the ruling submitted in the federal Central District of California.
Eastman was trying to withhold documents from the committee on the basis of an attorney-client privilege claim between him and the former president. The committee responded earlier this month, arguing that there is a legal exception allowing the disclosure of communications regarding ongoing or future crimes.
Charles Burnham, an attorney representing Eastman, said in a statement Monday that his client has a responsibility to his attorney-client privilege and his lawsuit against the committee “seeks to fulfill this responsibility.”
“It is not an attempt to ‘hide’ documents or ‘obstruct’ congressional investigations, as the January 6th committee falsely claims,” Burnham said.
Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesperson, also responded to the judge’s decision, calling it an “absurd and baseless ruling by a Clinton-appointed Judge in California.” He called the House committee’s investigation a “circus of partisanship.”
The March 3 filing from the committee was their most formal effort to link the former president to a federal crime. Lawmakers do not have the power to bring criminal charges on their own and can only make a referral to the Justice Department. The department has been investigating last year’s riot, but it has not given any indication that it is considering seeking charges against Trump.
The committee argued in the court documents that Trump and his associates engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Trump and those working with him then spread false information about the outcome of the presidential election and pressured state officials to overturn the results, potentially violating multiple federal laws, the panel said.
The trove of documents the nine-member panel has publicly released so far, which include some emails already retrieved from Eastman, offers an early look at some of the panel’s likely conclusions, which are expected to be submitted in the coming months. The committee says it has interviewed more than 650 witnesses as it investigates the violent siege by Trump supporters, the worst attack on the Capitol in more than two centuries.
Farnoush Amiri, The Associated Press