Attorney John Eastman gestures as he speaks next to U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, as Trump supporters gather ahead of the president’s speech to contest the certification by the U.S. Congress of the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election on the Ellipse in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021.
Jim Bourg | Reuters
An attorney defending Donald Trump in his newest criminal case argued Wednesday that the former president’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss were based on legal advice he received at the time.
The defense attorney, John Lauro, pointed to the conservative lawyer John Eastman, who played a central role in the push to get then-Vice President Mike Pence to falsely declare Trump the winner of the election.
Eastman is one of six people described as Trump’s co-conspirators in the indictment filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., federal court.
“What President Trump had was an actual opinion of counsel that his request to Vice President Pence was completely lawful and completely constitutional,” Lauro said Wednesday morning on NBC’s “TODAY.”
“You’re entitled to believe and trust advice of counsel,” Lauro said. “You had one of the leading constitutional scholars in the U.S., John Eastman, say to President Trump, ‘This is a protocol that you can follow, it’s legal.'”
“That eliminates criminal intent,” Lauro said, adding that everything Trump did “was to get at the truth.”
Lauro stood by that argument after the “TODAY” hosts noted that other lawyers and officials warned Trump repeatedly of his loss to President Joe Biden.
Special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment noted, for instance, that the deputy White House counsel told Trump in December 2020 that “there is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House [o]n January 20th.”
Trump was charged with four felonies in an indictment accusing him of fraudulently conspiring to subvert Biden’s electoral victory. The former president and his co-conspirators sought to overturn the results in key states, the indictment alleged, through a scheme that involved pushing claims about election fraud that they knew to be false.
Trump has been summoned to appear in D.C. federal court on Thursday afternoon, the Department of Justice said.
Eastman’s attorney confirmed to NBC News that Eastman is the person referred to in the indictment as “Co-Conspirator 2.”
In a statement Tuesday night, Eastman’s legal team said that Smith’s latest indictment “relies on a misleading presentation of the record to contrive criminal charges against Presidential candidate Trump and to cast ominous aspersions on his close advisors.”
The statement added that Eastman is not involved in any plea bargaining with federal prosecutors. “The fact is, if Dr. Eastman is indicted, he will go to trial. If convicted, he will appeal,” it said. “The Eastman legal team is confident of its legal position in this matter.”
CNBC has reached out to Eastman’s legal team for comment on Lauro’s remarks.
Lauro in the interview Wednesday also defended the scheme, pursued by Eastman and other co-conspirators, to send Congress false certifications from slates of pro-Trump “electors” in key states that Biden won.
“These weren’t fake electors, those were alternate electors,” Lauro said, arguing that the situation in 2020 was no different from what former President John F. Kennedy’s supporters did in the 1960 election.
The attorney also suggested that Trump will seek to push the trial to a much later date. Smith in rare public remarks Tuesday afternoon said that his office will pursue a speedy trial, a suggestion that he wants the case to go to trial within the next few months.
Lauro called that potential timeline “absurd.”
“How about, he had three and a half years [to investigate], why don’t we make it equal?” Lauro said.