On the day former President Donald Trump was appearing in court to face federal charges for his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, an ally of Trump lawyer and unindicted co-conspirator John Eastman released the third segment of an interview that was clearly meant to allow Eastman to portray his actions on behalf of Trump in the best possible light—and to ask for donations to his legal defense fund. In the video released Thursday, Eastman defended his efforts as necessary to save America from a left-wing-dominated Democratic Party that he claimed wants the country “to be eradicated.”
The three-part interview with Eastman, a longtime advocate for right-wing causes, was published on YouTube by Thomas Klingenstein, Eastman’s friend and chairman of the far-right Claremont Institute. It is not clear exactly when the interview was conducted; the first segment was released June 21.
In a White House meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, Eastman urged then-Vice President Pence to break federal law on Jan. 6 by delaying the counting of Electoral College votes so that Trump allies in battleground state legislatures could try to rescind their states’ certification of Biden electors. Eastman also appeared at Trump’s rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, where he whipped up the crowd, repeating false claims about election fraud and voting machines. Eastman’s actions have led to serious professional repercussions and potential legal trouble—his reported request for a pardon from Trump was not granted—but in the interviews with Klingenstein, Eastman is unrepentant.
Klingenstein structured the interview in three segments: the first focusing on Eastman’s reasons for believing the election was stolen, the second focusing on legal remedies for a stolen election, and the third on whether it was “prudential” for Eastman to have given Trump and Pence the legal advice he did.
In the first segment, Eastman insisted that in the battleground states won by Biden, “provably or circumstantially illegal” ballots exceeded the margin of victory. Eastman continued to promote long-since debunked claims, like those made by a truck driver who claimed to have driven 200,000 completed ballots from New York into Pennsylvania. In his interview, Eastman claims that a real investigation of the driver’s claims was thwarted at every turn. In reality, as reported by Lancaster Online in December 2022, investigators from the FBI, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the USPS inspector general’s office spent months investigating the claim before concluding that it was, to use the reporter’s term, “bunk.”
Eastman also cited the Georgia video that Trump loyalists claimed showed election workers engaged in nefarious activity—claims refuted by the state’s Republican election officials—as well as Dinesh D’Souza’s propaganda film, “2000 Mules,” which made wild allegations of widespread ballot stuffing. The movie’s claims have been repeatedly debunked, but Eastman told Klingenstein, “It’s more than credible. I think it’s very accurate.”
While Eastman acknowledged that some election fraud claims—presumably those alleging international plots to switch votes via voting machines—were “a little bit out there” and “seemed a little bit far-fetched,” he said he did not want to “discount” them.
In the second interview segment, posted to YouTube on July 21, Eastman and Klingenstein discussed language about the counting of Electoral College votes contained in the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act as well as historical precedents. Pence and his advisers held the widely shared understanding that the vice president’s role in counting certified votes is ministerial or administrative, and that he did not have the power to reject votes or delay the count. But Eastman argued that we simply cannot accept that a vice president, faced with even blatantly fraudulent electors, has no ability to use his judgment or discernment to defend the Constitution. When Klingenstein asked if Eastman would give the same legal advice today, he responded, “I would.”
In the final interview segment released Aug. 3, Eastman contradicted the testimony of White House lawyers before the Jan. 6 committee, saying that during his discussions in the White House nobody conveyed to him that his position was “crazy.”
Klingenstein raised the question of whether there would have been rioting if Eastman’s efforts had been successful and Trump stayed in power, and the two men discussed decisions by previous losers of close and contested elections, Richard Nixon in 1960 and Al Gore in 2000, to back down for the good of the country.
Eastman said that Trump could have used the military to maintain order, and insisted that the situation in 2020 was different because of “the very existential threat that the country is under.” He explained his thinking:
We are talking about whether we are gonna, as a nation, completely repudiate every one of our founding principles, which is what the modern left wing which is in control of the Democrat Party believes – that we are the root of all evil in the world and we have to be eradicated. This is an existential threat to the very survivability, not just of our nation, but of the example that our nation, properly understood, provides to the world. That’s the stakes. And Trump seems to understand that in a way a lot of Republican establishment types in Washington don’t.
And that means a stolen election that thwarts the will of people trying to correct course and get back on a path that understands the significance and the nobility of America and the American experiment is really at stake and we oughta fight for it.
Eastman added that if people were willing to use the institutions of government to influence the outcome of the election under Trump, and if a president were elected who was willing to go along with them, there would no longer by “any impediments to them preventing us from ever having a fair election again. Which means there are no impediments to them blocking the consent of the governed having control of the direction of government. And we no longer are a free people.”
“If those are the stakes, you know, what are you supposed to do?” Eastman asked. “Just sit around and twiddle your thumbs?”
In response to Klingenstein pointing out that criticism of Trump and Eastman’s efforts came from people on the right as well as the left, Eastman said that establishment Republicans opposed the populism of the Tea Party, which became relabeled as the MAGA movement under Trump.
Klingenstein apparently holds a similar view. In the “about” section of his YouTube channel, Klingenstein describes himself as someone who “believes that we are in a cold civil war.” The description continues:
The enemy—what he calls the “Woke Comms”—are winning, in large measure because Republican leaders have yet to engage. [Klingenstein’s] essays, speeches and plays all encourage Republicans to do just that— to think, talk, and act as if we are at war.
People For the American Way supports efforts to hold Donald Trump and his co-conspirators accountable for their efforts to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election. People For President Svante Myrick spoke at a rally held in Washington, D.C. on the day of Trump’s arraignment.
We need your help. Every day, Right Wing Watch exposes extremism to help the public, activists, and journalists understand the strategies and tactics of anti-democratic forces—and respond to an increasingly aggressive and authoritarian far-right movement. The threat is growing, but our resources are not. Any size contribution—or a small monthly donation—will help us continue our work and become more effective at disrupting the ideologies, people, and organizations that threaten our freedom and democracy. Please make an investment in Right Wing Watch’s defense of the values we share.