Ex-Trump attorney John Eastman enters not guilty plea in Arizona, says case headed to trial

John Eastman, an architect of former President Donald Trump's plan to stop the certification of the 2020 election, entered a plea of not guilty in a Maricopa County court on Friday morning.

The former Trump attorney is the first of 18 people indicted last month in Arizona to appear in court and answer to charges stemming from the election nearly four years ago.

Eastman and others are facing nine felony counts in Arizona, including conspiracy, forgery and fraud. If convicted, the crimes could carry prison time, though state law allows for less severe penalties, including probation, depending on a defendant's circumstances, like past criminal history.

ex-trump attorney john eastman enters not guilty plea in arizona, says case headed to trial

John Eastman, a former Trump lawyer, during his arraignment in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix. Eastman and 17 others, including 11 Arizona Republicans, were charged by a grand jury in a scheme to give U.S. Congress a path to reject Joe Biden the presidency.

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Eastman, donning a blue suit, appeared in court for a three-minute hearing alongside his lawyers, Ashley Adams and Chase Wortham, who are based in Scottsdale.

Following the hearing, Eastman told reporters he believed the charges should not have been brought against him.

“I had zero communications with any of the electors in Arizona,” he said. “Zero involvement with any of the litigation or the legislative hearings in Arizona. We will proceed to trial, and I'm confident, if the law is faithfully applied, I will be fully exonerated.”

Nick Klingerman, the criminal division chief in the Arizona Attorney General's Office on Friday agreed Eastman should remain out of custody, saying prosecutors were in good contact with his lawyers.

The arraignment marks one of the earliest steps in the criminal justice process, where a defendant enters a plea to their charges. Eastman's next hearing was scheduled for July 2.

While a trial date was set for October, Adams said she would likely ask for a delay because of the complexities of the case and the large amount of evidence, much of which exists in the public sphere.

Most of the remaining defendants are expected to appear in court or be arraigned virtually next week, on May 21.

The judicial officer hearing all defendants' pleas will not be the trial judge hearing the fake electors case. That assignment will occur later.

Who is John Eastman?

Eastman was a leader of the scheme to keep Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's win in 2020. He is also facing charges in Georgia, another of the four states that have brought cases against Trump electors who tried to create a path for Congress to keep Trump in power though he lost the election.

The former dean of Chapman University's law school in California, Eastman was recommended for disbarment there earlier this year and cannot practice law in that state. He is fighting that determination, records show.

Eastman's actions related to the election are outlined in the final report of the congressional committee that investigated the events leading up to the attack at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

He wrote two memos claiming Mike Pence, then president of the U.S. Senate and vice president, could refuse to count electoral votes from certain states, ultimately standing in the way of Congress certifying the election result. But Eastman also repeatedly acknowledged that Pence could not permissibly take that step.

"Nowhere does it suggest that the president of the Senate gets to make the determination on his own," Eastman wrote in records obtained by the Jan. 6 committee. The committee report includes numerous examples of Eastman admitting his legal theory was not valid, admissions that could be key as Arizona prosecutors make their case against him.

The committee interviewed Pence's lawyer, Greg Jacob, who said that Eastman acknowledged the vice president couldn't stand in the way of the count. Eastman "acknowledged that he would lose 9-0 at the Supreme Court," Jacob told the committee during his deposition.

In a roughly 90-minute deposition with committee members in December 2021, Eastman mostly did not answer questions about his actions, asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Trump embraced Eastman's legal claims, according to the congressional inquiry, leading to a plan in Arizona and six other states to send slates of alternate electors for Trump to Congress.

On Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress met to certify the election, Eastman stood with Trump at a rally near the White House and made false claims that "corrupted" machines "stole the election," according to the Jan. 6 report. He later urged Arizona leaders, including then-House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa Republican, to go along with the plan.

"Just do it and let the courts figure it all out," Bowers recalled Eastman telling him.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at [email protected] or 480-416-5669.

Elena Santa Cruz is a justice reporter for The Republic. Reach her at [email protected]. Follow her on X @ecsantacruz3.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Ex-Trump attorney John Eastman enters not guilty plea in Arizona, says case headed to trial

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