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John Eastman fought to overturn the election. He may lose his law license

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The attorney John Eastman fought to overturn the 2020 election and keep Donald Trump in power. Now he's fighting to keep his law license.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, the state bar of California says Eastman knowingly pushed bogus conspiracy theories about the election and should be disbarred. Disciplinary hearings against Eastman started yesterday. And the former dean of Chapman University's law school testified.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Dreisbach was in the courtroom. And he's with us now to tell us what happened. Good morning.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So could you just bring us up to speed on what Eastman did after the 2020 election?

DREISBACH: So Eastman is a right-wing law professor, attorney. And he was a key player in the Trump legal team that was challenging the election results. He developed, most importantly, this plan for swing states that voted for Biden to submit alternate or fake slates of electors for Trump. And he pressured Vice President Pence to block Biden's win on January 6. Now, that same day, Eastman rallied the crowd to add to the pressure on Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN EASTMAN: This is bigger than President Trump. It is the very essence of our Republican form of government. And it has to be done. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.

(CHEERING)

DREISBACH: Later that day, of course, a mob violently stormed the Capitol. And even after the violence started, emails show that Eastman continued to advocate this plan to block Biden's victory.

MARTIN: So what's the state bar's case against Eastman?

DREISBACH: Well, in court, the state bar's attorney argued that Eastman's conduct was, quote, "fundamentally dishonest" - that Eastman pushed false claims of fraud in court documents, conspired with Trump to obstruct the Electoral College count and that he was pressuring Pence to violate the Constitution. This argument is that all these actions went against Eastman's professional responsibilities as a member of the state bar. Now, I talked about this with Jessica Levinson. She's a law professor at Loyola Law School here in LA. And she says this is one of several cases of disciplinary hearings for Trump lawyers - think also of Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell. And these are really a matter of the legal community deciding, essentially, whether to vote someone off the island.

JESSICA LEVINSON: Lawyers hold positions of public trust in our society. There's a reason that we have to agree to certain rules of the profession. And the baseline is don't lie to judges, support the law and support the Constitution.

MARTIN: So now, of course, I'm going to ask you what Eastman's response to these charges is. I think - I'm assuming he's arguing that he was just arguing, that he's making the case for his client.

DREISBACH: Eastman was actually the first witness called by the state bar. And he was a lot more muted on the stand than at that rally you heard on January 6. And he was asked about the sources of some of the wild claims in legal filings and public comments he made about supposed voter fraud or irregularities in the election. And basically, he said he trusted information that they were getting on the legal team was vetted because he trusted the lawyers he worked with. But he did not actually do much of the vetting himself.

And I should say, there's no indication he's backed away from some of his legal theories. In one interesting exchange, the state bar asked about his theory on decertifying an election. Even more than a year after the fact, Eastman contended that even though it would be uncharted territory, he said it was plausible that Joe Biden's election could still be decertified, and he could be kicked out of office. Now, Eastman is set to resume his testimony tomorrow.

MARTIN: What else can we expect from the rest of the trial?

DREISBACH: Well, it's supposed to last about two weeks. With Eastman under oath, we could get some new information about the behind-the-scenes work to overturn the 2020 election. We're also supposed to hear from Greg Jacob, who was a lawyer for then-Vice President Pence. And Eastman's witness list includes some really fringe figures who have supported election denial. Now, the judge in the case will ultimately make a ruling, but the California Supreme Court has the final say here.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thank you.

DREISBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.