PALMER — An attorney behind former President Donald Trump’s elaborate plan to subvert the results of the 2020 election testified Tuesday in a trial over the eligibility of an Alaska lawmaker to hold public office.
Trump attorney John Eastman testified a day after the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee recommended federal criminal charges against him for obstructing an act of Congress and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
At the center of the trial is whether Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman is eligible to hold office in Alaska given the state constitution’s disloyalty clause, which bars a person from holding public office if they are a member of a group that advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
There is no family connection between David Eastman and John Eastman.
David Eastman maintains he is a member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing group whose leader has been convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
The lawsuit against David Eastman was brought by Willow resident Randall Kowalke, who says the Oath Keepers advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. government and therefore Eastman should be barred from office despite winning reelection to his state House seat in November.
David Eastman has declined to disavow his membership in the group, and his attorney Joe Miller has argued that the Oath Keepers as a group does not advocate the violent overthrow of government, even though some of its members have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to attempting to illegally halt the transfer of power to current President Joe Biden.
John Eastman, a conservative legal scholar who advised Trump after he lost the 2020 election, testified Tuesday that membership in Oath Keepers is protected under First Amendment protections of freedom of association, even if the group called for overthrowing the government. In addition to testifying as a legal expert on David Eastman’s behalf, John Eastman said Tuesday that he had also been retained by David Eastman to work on the case, including drafting legal pleadings.
“Mere advocacy, including advocacy to overthrow the government or the necessity of overthrowing the government, is constitutionally protected speech unless it crosses the line to imminent incitement to imminent lawless action,” said John Eastman, who testified through a remote video stream in the trial that took place in Palmer. He went on to testify that many of the statements made by the leader of the Oath Keepers that appeared to call for using force to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election did not constitute “incitement to imminent lawless action.”
John Eastman argued that even if some members of the Oath Keepers had incited imminent lawless action, that would not impact the entirety of the Oath Keepers membership — extending to David Eastman.
“It would violate the First Amendment protection for freedom of association to attribute that to other members of the organization who were not participants in that,” said John Eastman.
John Eastman is the attorney behind the unfounded legal theory that former Vice President Mike Pence could reject or delay the certification of state electors. The congressional Jan. 6 committee recommended Monday that John Eastman and Trump face federal criminal charges in connection with the plot to stop the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election won by Biden. But it is up to the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether or not to press charges against them.
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the events of Jan. 6, also testified in David Eastman’s trial.
Goriune Dudukgian, an attorney for Kowalke, has returned throughout the trial to statements made by Rhodes before the Jan. 6 insurrection and his conviction as indications the Oath Keepers — a group Rhodes founded — have advocated overthrowing the government.
David Eastman testified during the trial that he was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, but did not enter or approach the Capitol. He also testified that he urged members of Alaska’s congressional delegation to vote against certifying the election results.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna is set to decide whether David Eastman can retain his seat in the Legislature after closing arguments in the case are heard on Wednesday, following six days of testimony. Regardless of the outcome, parties have indicated the case will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Randall Kowalke as a Wasilla resident. Kowalke lives in Willow.