The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol dedicated a crucial portion of its third hearing Thursday to demonstrating that former President Donald Trump’s plan to overturn the 2020 election was not only legally unsound, but that even the lawyer pushing it the hardest knew it. The most surprising finding of all the hearings so far was that the House committee heard evidence that John Eastman, a professor of law, told Trump that his plot to overthrow the President’s rule of law was illegal.
Greg Jacob, Vice President Mike Pence’s counsel, recounted Thursday a White House meeting on Jan. 4, 2020, in which Eastman said in front of the president that his plan to thwart the counting of the Electoral College violated the law.
“I believe he did on the 4th,” Jacob said in response to a question from the panel.
Such an admission was consistent with the testimony of other witnesses presented at Thursday’s hearing, the committee’s third this month. Multiple former White House aides testified, either in person or in taped deposition, that the plan proposed by Eastman, the chief architect of the effort to block Biden’s election victory, was either illicit or certain to be struck down in the courts.
The hearing also revealed another shocking revelation: Eastman sent the committee an email in which he sought a pardon for Trump’s role in trying to prevent the power transfer to Biden.
“I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works,” Eastman wrote to Trump’s personal attorney and confidant Rudy Guiliani, according to an email obtained by the Jan. 6 committee. Rep. Pete Aguilar (a Democrat from California) led the questioning on Thursday and said that Eastman didn’t get one. Trump announced that 143 pardons were given on his last night as president. Eastman wasn’t among them.
In the opening hearing last week, the committee teased out that it would unveil Republican members of Congress who sought pardons for their roles on Jan. 6—a request that they believe reveals a consciousness of guilt. “It tells us that they fear they’re going to be charged, or more generally, that they’ve engaged in conduct that’s a federal crime,” Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney, tells TIME.
Much of the Thursday hearing was focused on White House aides who pushed back on Eastman’s universally debunked theory that the vice president had the constitutional power to reject slates of electors during the counting of the Electoral College.
Many Pence staffers said that they didn’t find the argument convincing. “There is no justifiable basis to conclude that the vice president has that kind of authority,” Jacob told the panel.
In fact, according to testimony and evidence presented to the committee, even Eastman didn’t buy into such a theory. Rep. Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and vice chair of the panel, said that Eastman admitted in a Dec. 19, 2020, email that “the fake electors had no legal weight—referring to them as dead on arrival in Congress.”
Jacob said that Eastman (the founder director of the California-based conservative thinktank) also admitted in other meetings that this argument wouldn’t be legally valid.
One Pence aide recalled a conversation with Eastman in which he acknowledged that the move wouldn’t be upheld in the courts, including the Supreme Court.
During Thursday’s hearing the committee aired clips from a taped deposition of Eastman in which he repeatedly responded to a committee lawyer’s questions by pleading his Fifth Amendment right against not incriminating himself. Aguilar claimed that Eastman has pleaded the Fifth 100 times.
Jacob also shared with Eastman an email conversation he had in those days following the Jan. 6, violence, at another hearing. According to the ex-Pence lawyer, he asked Eastman if he told Trump that he did not have authority for him to deny the Electoral College vote.
“He’s been so advised,” Eastman wrote back. “But you know him. Once he gets something in his head, it’s hard to get him to change course.”
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