Takeaways from Day 3 of Jan. 6 hearings: Lawyer Eastman told Trump election plot wasn't legal

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John Eastman acknowledged the plot to block certification of Joe Biden’s election victory wasn't legal but, ultimately, aggressively pushed it anyway. Even after the attack on the Capitol, he pushed for then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election.

And Eastman later sought a presidential pardon from President Donald Trump.

That was some of the evidence the Jan. 6 committee laid out Thursday during its third public hearing to build a case that Trump's pressure campaign against Pence was an unconstitutional bid to reverse his defeat, many times turning to Eastman’s own emails and testimony to highlight how he had been the architect of the scheme to keep Trump in power.

The committee hasn't been circumspect about its desire to see the Department of Justice file criminal charges — including targeting Trump — for the events that unfolded around Jan. 6. And the hearing on Thursday appeared to be making the case that Trump — and Eastman — knew what they were doing wasn't legal.

Here are the key takeaways from the third Jan. 6 committee public hearing:

Eastman was aiding Trump's pressure campaign

On Jan. 4, 2021, two days before the deadly Capitol riot, Eastman acknowledged to Trump, Pence counsel Greg Jacob and others in the Oval Office that his strategy violated the Electoral Count Act and was illegal, Jacob testified.

A day later, Eastman had reversed course and was again pushing the Pence team to pursue the most aggressive option: reject electors from contested states in a bid to overturn the election.

“I was surprised because I viewed it as one of the key concessions the night before,” Jacob told the Jan. 6 panel Thursday.

Even after Pence and congressional lawmakers had to flee for their safety, multiple people had died in the attack, Eastman — late on the night of Jan. 6 — emailed a furious Jacob and asked the Pence team to “consider one more relatively minor violation” and delay certification for 10 days to allow states to investigate unfounded allegations of widespread fraud.

“So even after the attack on the Capitol had been quelled, Dr. Eastman requested — in writing no less — that the vice president violate the law by delaying the certification and sending the question back to the states?” asked John Wood, a senior investigative counsel for the committee. "Is that correct?"

“It is," Jacob replied.

Finally, the committee presented an email where Eastman informs Rudy Guiliani, then Trump’s personal attorney, days after the deadly riot: “Third, I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.”

“The request of a constitutional pardon … indicates some consciousness of guilt or at least fear of guilt,” one committee member, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said after the hearing. “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence like everyone else.”

While Eastman is a relatively unknown figure in national politics, the Jan. 6 panel sought to elevate him to highlight the dangers of his unconstitutional legal theory and how there remains an ongoing threat to democracy.

Trump knew he was putting Pence’s life at risk

From previous leaks and reporting, the public already knew the general timeline of events on Jan. 6. But the committee Thursday offered details and testimony proving that Trump was aware of violence at the Capitol when he tweeted at 2:24 p.m. that day that Pence lacked the “courage” to overturn the election.

Trump’s chief of staff at the time, Mark Meadows, has refused to testify before the Jan. 6 panel, but Meadows aide Ben Williamson and White House press aide Sarah Matthews testified previously that they were concerned about the riot at the Capitol, conferred and hoped the president could quell the violence.

Williamson, a former House aide, walked over to Meadows and informed him of the situation, then followed his boss down the hallway: “It looked like he was headed in the direction of the Oval Office.”

“Mr. Meadows went to the Dining Room near the Oval Office to tell the President about the violence at the Capitol before the president’s 2:24 p.m. tweet,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., a Jan. 6 committee member, who added that future hearings will offer more details about what was happening at the White House that afternoon.

After Trump’s tweet, “the crowds both outside the Capitol and inside the Capitol surged," Aguilar said. "The crowds inside the Capitol were able to overwhelm the law enforcement presence and the vice president was quickly evacuated from his Ceremonial Senate Office to a secure location within the Capitol complex.”

In a new revelation, the committee revealed that the violent mob, looking to hang Pence, came within 40 feet of the vice president as he was whisked from his Senate office.

“Approximately 40 feet — 40 feet between the vice president and the mob,” Aguilar said. “Make no mistake about the fact the vice president’s life was in danger.”

Pence's team was unified against Trump’s plan

Much has been made about Pence’s bravery on Jan. 6, standing firm against Trump’s pressure campaign even as Trump belittled him and a mob of his supporters hunted him in the Capitol that day.

But the committee showed Thursday that Pence was backed by a team of aides and political allies who repeatedly made the case to the vice president that he had no authority to interfere in the election process and block Biden’s victory.

“There was a unified front,” Olivia Troye, a former Pence aide who attended Thursday’s hearing, told NBC News.

Pence personally had received legal advice from the two witnesses who testified on Thursday: Jacob and Luttig, a former Justice Department official and federal judge appointed by George H.W. Bush. He called up a fellow GOP vice president and Hoosier, Dan Quayle, who told him he had no role other than to certify. Pence took a phone call from former Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his old House colleague, who urged him to stand firm.

And on the morning of Jan. 6, before his drive to the Capitol, Pence huddled at his residence with his top aides — Marc Short, Jacob and Chris Hodgson — and they prayed together.

At the end of that violent and historic day, Short texted Pence a Bible verse: 2 Timothy 4: 7.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., heaped praise on his GOP witnesses Thursday: “In the weeks leading up to Jan. 6th, many people failed this test when they had to choose between their oath to the country or the demands of Donald Trump.

“But there were others who like you stood tall in the face of intimidation and put our democracy first.”

All the president’s men

During the past three hearings, nearly all of the witnesses testifying before the Jan. 6 panel — both in recorded depositions and live testimony — have been Republican and male.

In taped testimony, there was Short; former Attorney General William Barr and his successor, Jeffrey Rosen; and Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.

At Monday’s hearing, the committee heard from a trio of Republicans — election attorney Benjamin Ginsberg, former U.S. Attorney BJay Pak, and former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt — as well as from Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News journalist.

Two other Pence associates, Jacob and J. Michael Luttig testified in person Thursday.

Committee members said it makes sense for Republicans to be testifying in these hearings because they were the ones who had a front-row seat to Trump’s efforts to stay in power; they witnessed the events.

But by having Republicans tell the story of what happened to the American public, Democrats who lead the Jan. 6 panel are further insulating themselves from GOP attacks that the yearlong investigation is an election-year political witch hunt, designed to prevent Trump from ever ascending to the White House again.

In this hyper-partisan political environment, the Jan. 6 committee is letting Republicans — specifically those in the Trump White House and administration — build the case against Donald Trump.