John Eastman, left, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, appears during a video deposition to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. Eastman alleges in a New Mexico court filing that FBI agents seized his phone last week. (House Select Committee/Associated Press)
The New Mexico man who played a key role in trying to keep Donald Trump in office after he lost the presidential election in 2020 was confronted by federal agents last week as he was leaving a restaurant with his wife.
FBI agents, apparently acting at the behest of the US Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, seized John Eastman’s iPhone, according to a motion filed Monday in US District Court in Albuquerque by attorneys for Eastman.
Eastman, who lives in Santa Fe, is now demanding that his phone be returned.
The Jan. 6 committee has focused on Eastman as a central figure in Trump’s campaign to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. The committee used Eastman’s own emails to show that he had been the architect of a scheme to push Pence to reject electors from contested states in an effort to overturn the election.
Witnesses told the Jan. 6 committee that Eastman was the architect of the plan and pushed it to Trump despite insistence from top lawyers in the administration that the plan was not sound legal advice.
Eastman alleges that he was not provided with a copy of the search warrant until after agents frisked him, seized his iPhone Pro 12, and demanded that he unlock the phone, according to the motion. He argues that he was never provided a copy of the affidavit establishing probable cause for the seizure and that, because he never worked for the Justice Department, the Office of Inspector General has no jurisdiction over him. He also contends that information on his phone is privileged.
The same day that Eastman’s phone was seized, federal agents executed a search warrant on the home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, whom Trump tried to install as attorney general in the days before the Jan. 6 capitol riot. In addition, Thomas Lane, who worked on behalf of the Trump campaign in Arizona and New Mexico, served one of several people with grand jury subpoenas last week as part of a Justice Department probe into the Trump team’s plan to overturn the 2020 election results , the Washington Post and New York Times have previously reported.
Eastman and his attorneys did not immediately respond Monday to phone and email requests for comment.
The motion asks a federal judge to order the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General to return the phone and all data it contained and to destroy any information removed from the device.
Agents also forced Eastman to provide “biometric data” required to unlock the phone, the motion alleges. A federal warrant filed with the motion said the phone would be taken to a Department of Justice forensic laboratory in Virginia.
The motion contends that the data on Eastman’s phone has been the subject of litigation and found to be “protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of association, by attorney-client privilege” and attorney work-product protections.
“The cell phone that was seized contains access to (Eastman’s) email accounts, including 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 motion states.
“That litigation has received extensive media attention, so it is hard to imagine that the Department of Justice, which apparently submitted the application for the warrant at issue here, was not aware of it,” it states.
Eastman is a registered Republican in New Mexico who has cast ballots in every local and statewide election here since November 2018, including the June 7 primary election this year.
He alleges that he was walking to his car on Wednesday after dining with his wife and a friend when he was confronted by about six FBI agents who stopped him from entering his car and demanded his cell phone. The court documents do not specify where he dined.
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“I asked to see the warrant, but the agent refused,” Eastman wrote in a declaration filed with the motion. “He demanded that I hand him my cell phone several times, and each time I requested first to see the warrant.”
The agents conducted a pat down search and seized the phone, he contends. “Only after the seizure did the FBI executing officer provide me with a copy of the warrant,” he wrote.
Eastman “was forced to provide biometric data” to open the phone, the motion alleges. It did not specify what kind of biometric data Eastman was required to provide.
A search warrant filed with the motion authorized federal agents on June 17 to search Eastman and seize “any electronic and digital devices” including computers, cell phones, tablets and USB devices.
The affidavit said agents intend to transport the devices to Washington, DC, or a Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General forensic laboratory in Northern Virginia.