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Why the latest court defeat for a pro-Trump lawyer matters

John Eastman filed suit to hide materials from the Jan. 6 committee. He lost his case in ways that are likely to reverberate in important ways.

In the world of American politics, John Eastman isn't exactly famous, but when it comes to Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his election defeat, Eastman is a uniquely important figure.

For those who may need a refresher about his relevance, the Republican lawyer began working with Trump in 2020 — the then-president saw him on Fox News and was impressed — and as part of that work, Eastman filed the infamous brief on Trump's behalf that asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 presidential election. (It was filled with factual errors — including an obvious one literally on the first page.)

Soon after, he authored what's become known as the Eastman Memo, which fleshed out a ridiculous six-step scenario in which then-Vice President Mike Pence would help reject election results that Republicans didn't like.

It was, in other words, an apparent document — written by a lawyer representing the then-president — that effectively outlined how Republicans could execute something resembling a coup. Eastman even pushed his vision on Jan. 6, speaking at the pro-Trump rally ahead of the insurrectionist riot.

With this in mind, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has taken a keen interest in Eastman. In fact, the bipartisan panel subpoenaed Chapman University, seeking Eastman's work emails, since he was a law professor at the school while he participated in the anti-election scheme. (Not long after the riot, Eastman retired from his university position.)

The lawyer sued, trying to block the subpoena in the hopes of keeping the emails under wraps. As Politico reported, that didn't go well.

A federal judge in California on Tuesday delivered a forceful defense of the Jan. 6 select committee's efforts, sharply rejecting a bid by attorney John Eastman — a key driver of Donald Trump's effort to subvert the 2020 election — to block a subpoena from the panel to his former employer, Chapman University.

District Court Judge David Carter said in his ruling, "The public interest here is weighty and urgent.... Congress seeks to understand the causes of a grave attack on our nation's democracy and a near-successful attempt to subvert the will of the voters."

What's more, the decision noted that Chapman University identified "just under 19,000 responsive documents and communications" that are relevant to congressional investigators.

It's a safe bet the bipartisan House committee would learn quite a bit from those materials.

At face value, it's notable that Eastman lost this case, since it brings investigators one step closer to receiving documents they're eager to see. But let's also not overlook the larger significance.

Politico's report added, "Carter's ruling also stands out because it's the first to tackle a key issue raised in nearly every other Trump ally's lawsuit: A claim that the committee is invalid because it includes no members appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy."

This comes up with unnerving frequency. Indeed, it was just two weeks ago when McCarthy himself insisted, "This committee is not conducting a legitimate investigation."

It's long been a difficult argument to take seriously. As we've discussed, there is a process through which House members create select committees, and it involves the full chamber approving a resolution to create a panel and give it the legal authority to issue subpoenas.

The House held such a vote in June, approved the creation of the committee, and members from both parties were seated in accordance with the resolution.

With this in mind, it was of great interest to see the federal judge in this case consider and reject the claim that the select panel and its subpoenas are suspect. Indeed, Carter explicitly recognized the legitimacy of the investigatory committee and its work, setting a precedent that will likely be referenced in other cases.