Trump considering lawyer who spoke at US Capitol rally for impeachment defence: Sources

Law professor John Eastman (left) next to US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Washington, on Jan 6, 2021.
Law professor John Eastman (left) next to US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Washington, on Jan 6, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump may hire a law professor who spoke at his rally before the riot at the US Capitol to help defend him in an impeachment trial over a charge that he incited the violence, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr John Eastman, who joined Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on stage at the Jan 6 rally, is being considered for a role on his defence team, the people said.

Mr Giuliani, 76, who told the crowd they should engage in "trial by combat," may lead the impeachment defence, Reuters reported on Sunday, citing a source. He has not responded to requests for comment.

Mr Eastman, 60, who made unsubstantiated claims of election fraud at the rally, would neither confirm nor deny whether he will represent Mr Trump, citing attorney-client privilege.

Asked whether he would be willing, Mr Eastman said: "If the President of the United States asked me to consider helping him, I would certainly give it consideration."

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr Eastman and has declined to comment on Mr Giuliani.

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday made Mr Trump the first US president to be impeached twice, charging him with inciting an insurrection as lawmakers sought to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the Nov 3 election.

A former clerk to US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Mr Eastman represented Mr Trump last month in unsuccessful challenges to the election.

At the rally, Mr Eastman, who until Wednesday (Jan 13) was a professor at Chapman University in California, spoke about "secret folders" of ballots used to defraud the election before Mr Trump took the stage and repeated the discredited claim that the election was stolen from him.

Faculty members and students, among others, subsequently called for Chapman to fire Mr Eastman. In a statement on Wednesday (Jan 13), the university president said an agreement had been reached under which Mr Eastman would immediately retire from Chapman.

Mr Eastman told Reuters he did not believe he did anything wrong. He does not think Mr Trump has culpability, either. "None, whatsoever," he said.

Mr Eastman came under fire last summer for an op-ed he wrote in Newsweek that questioned whether Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris was eligible to serve because her parents were not US citizens or permanent residents. Newsweek later apologised for publishing the piece.

Mr Trump may have a tough time retaining legal talent. He has had trouble hiring lawyers since former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the widespread condemnation of the violence at the Capitol and pressure from anti-Trump groups may discourage others from signing up.

Mr Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House in 2019 on charges that he pressured Ukraine's President to announce an investigation of his rival Mr Biden, but was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate in February 2020.

Mr Giuliani's own pressure on Ukraine helped lead to Mr Trump's impeachment trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who helped lead the defence effort during the impeachment over Ukraine, is not expected to participate in the latest effort, according to one person familiar with the matter. Mr Cipollone will leave his post on Jan 20, when Mr Biden becomes president.

Mr Jay Sekulow, another personal lawyer for Mr Trump who played a role during the first impeachment, also is not expected to be involved.

Mr John Yoo, a conservative legal scholar who also clerked for Justice Thomas and worked in the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration, said on Wednesday he did not think Mr Trump would want him to represent him.

"I think he committed impeachable acts," said Mr Yoo, although he added that he thought incitement was the wrong grounds and "the Senate should not convict him".