John Eastman, a former lawyer for ex-President Donald Trump, dodged a question under oath on Wednesday about any conversations he may have had about replacing Vice President Mike Pence with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to certify the 2020 presidential election results, Politico reported.
Grassley has consistently denied being part of any such discussions.
However, it remains unclear how seriously anyone in Trump’s orbit considered using Grassley — or attempting to use him — to grant Trump a second term in office.
“Neither Sen. Grassley nor his staff were ever made aware of any plans to overturn the election,” a spokesperson for the senator told HuffPost Thursday.
Eastman was reportedly asked about the alleged plot during testimony he was forced to give this week as part of his disbarment trial in California.
He cited attorney-client privilege as he declined to provide an answer. Asked which client he was referring to, he said, “President Trump,” according to Politico.
The exchange raised eyebrows given the unknowns surrounding Trump’s scheming to hold onto the White House.
Eastman is the author of a now-infamous memo that detailed how Pence could use his position to hand the 2020 election to Trump. In short, it involved casting aside the legitimate electors and introducing “alternate” slates who would make it possible for Trump to be declared the winner. (The memo led to the ongoing ethics trial that could strip him of his license to practice law.)
But Pence refused to cooperate, arguing that doing so would be against the Constitution, which gives the vice president a largely ceremonial role in the process of tallying and certifying Electoral College votes.
The theory was that with Pence out of the way, Trump could perhaps get what he wanted.
Federal law said that the vice president should oversee a joint session between the House and Senate where the election results are certified. In the vice president’s absence, the next highest-ranking member of the Senate should oversee it. At the time, that person was Grassley, the Senate president pro tempore.
Grassley had helped generate concern over his role in the process when he said, on Jan. 5, 2021, “If the vice president isn’t there — and we don’t expect him to be there — I will be presiding over the Senate.”
Roll Call tweeted the odd quote, characterizing it as Grassley asserting that he would preside over the election certification at the joint session.
Grassley, however, has said that he was not talking about that — he was just talking about presiding over a Senate session that would happen after objections had been lodged during the joint session, in order to consider the objections.
He reiterated that point once again Thursday, telling HuffPost: “We were talking about presiding over the Senate, but a lot of people get that mixed up with some idea that I was going to preside over the joint session. And you know that’s not what I ever intended to do.”
But that doesn’t mean Trump and his allies did not discuss the possibility among themselves.
Kenneth Chesebro, another former attorney for Trump, discussed Grassley taking over for Pence in an email sent on Dec. 13, 2020.
“So regardless of whether it is Chuck Grassley or another senior Republican who agrees to take on the role of defending the constitutional prerogatives of the President of the Senate, whoever it is then proceeds to open and count first Alabama, and then Alaska, at which point Trump and Pence are leading 12-0,” Chesebro wrote.
“He then opens the two envelopes from Arizona, and announces that he cannot and will not, at least as of that date, count any electoral votes from Arizona because there are two slates of votes, and it is clear that the Arizona courts did not give a full and fair opportunity for review of election irregularities, in violation of due process.”
Eastman also referenced “not wanting to constrain Pence (or Grassley) in the exercise of power they have under the 12th Amendment” in an email on Dec. 23, 2020.
It was that email that came up Wednesday during Eastman’s disbarment trial, prompting him to invoke attorney-client privilege.
Eastman, Chesebro and Trump are among the group of 19 people facing criminal charges in the state of Georgia for attempting to interfere with the election results there.
Arthur Delaney contributed to this report.