John Eastman, an attorney who aided then-President Donald Trump in his efforts to overturn the results of last year’s presidential election, plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in the Jan. 6 select committee’s investigation of the events leading up to the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to a letter from his attorney.
Charles Burnham, Eastman’s lawyer, wrote in a letter to committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson this week that his client “hereby asserts his Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against himself in response to your subpoena.”
In the letter, Burnham wrote, “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.’”
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“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,” the letter states.
Eastman reportedly worked alongside Trump to try to overturn the 2020 election results, even pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify those results. Pence did ultimately approve certification of the outcome, saying he lacked the constitutional authority to reject certain electors, in a move that fractured his relationship with Trump.
Eastman also reportedly tried to pressure swing state lawmakers to reject Biden’s victory and send alternate electors to the Electoral College. He also spoke at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally outside the White House prior to the riot.
Burnham wrote to Thompson that he and Eastman object to “the legal propriety of your subpoena,” arguing that the “lack of a ranking minority member makes it impossible for this Committee to comply with clearly applicable House rules.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected some of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s appointees to the panel after some of his picks were characterized as too close to matters under investigation by the committee. Pelosi later appointed Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to the panel, and Thompson later named Cheney vice chairwoman of the committee.
The select committee this week voted to recommend holding former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with their subpoena. Shortly before the vote, Clark’s lawyer told the panel his client planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against incriminating himself.
The committee is scheduled to permit him to do so on Saturday and to discuss whether they will accept his claims to a Fifth Amendment right as legitimate within their investigation. Eastman will likely face a similar debate.
Thompson said at a Rules Committee meeting this week that his committee is “not throwing around contempt referrals left and right.”
“Mr. Clark previously had the opportunity to make Fifth Amendment assertions on the record and declined. But a Fifth Amendment privilege assertion is very significant,” Thompson said, adding the committee “has agreed to provide him another chance to come in and assert that privilege on a question-by-question basis, which he’s required to do by law if he’s making such a claim. He agreed to come in, and we will reconvene the deposition Saturday. But we cannot be delayed. The Select Committee’s work is too important. We must be ready to act quickly if Mr. Clark remains in defiance of the Select Committee’s subpoena.”
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At the same meeting, Cheney said the committee plans to hold “multiple weeks of public hearings” next year on the events leading up to the riot.