Agents seize phone of lawyer who pushed Trump false elector claims


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Federal agents last week seized the cell phone of John Eastman, a lawyer who pushed false claims that mass voter fraud tainted the 2020 election and urged President Trump and other Republicans to block Joe Biden from becoming president.

Eastman’s lawyer, Charles Burnham, filed papers in federal court in New Mexico Monday asking a judge to order the cell phone returned to Eastman. It was seized pursuant to a search order when he left a restaurant last Wednesday — a day in which federal agents around the country delivered subpoenas, executed search warrants, and interviewed witnesses in a significant expansion of the criminal probes surrounding Jan. 6.

That same day, federal agents conducted a search at the northern Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who Trump considered appointing to run the department because he was willing to further a scheme to declare the election results invalid in some key states.

Both Clark and Eastman played crucial roles in Trump’s efforts in late 2020 and early 2021 to convince state legislators in about a half dozen states to replace the electors that Biden had won with electors for Trump. In theory, such a replacement would have kept Trump in the White House.

With echoes of Watergate, Trump appointees describe push to overturn election, keep him in office

Monday’s court filings also suggest the Justice Department’s inspector general has become an important player in the criminal probes surrounding Jan. 6, because Eastman says his phone was taken by FBI agents acting on behalf of the inspector general. A spokeswoman for the inspector general declined to comment.

The inspector general is an independent entity tasked with rooting out waste, fraud and abuse within the Justice Department. IG investigations examine the conduct of current or former department officials, and the office’s role in this case suggests it may be reviewing the contents of Eastman’s phone as part of a criminal investigation into Clark or others who once worked at the department.

In court papers seeking the return of his phone, Eastman argues that because he was never a Justice Department employee he is “outside of the OIG’s jurisdiction.”

The court papers say that when Eastman asked to see the warrant, the request was refused. He was frisked, his iPhone taken from him and he was “forced to provide biometric data to open” the phone, the filing says.

That claim may become a matter of dispute, since the warrant for Eastman’s phone explicitly states that Eastman may be asked to willingly provide a password or biometric data, but cannot be forced to provide that information.

The warrant also suggests that the inspector general’s office is prepared for a legal fight over the contents of the phone, because it contains a provision that its contents will not be viewed right away by the investigative team.

In his own filing, Eastman notes that his phone contains “emails that have been the subject of an intense, five-month privilege dispute between movant and the US House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol.” The court filing also notes that a federal judge in California previously ruled that some of Eastman’s emails are “protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of association, by attorney-client privilege, and/or by the work product doctrine.”

This is a developing story.

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