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Federal judge says Trump ‘likely’ violated federal obstruction statute

United States District Court Judge David Carter said in a Monday ruling that former President Donald Trump likely committed federal offenses by attempting to prevent the counting of electoral votes during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter said, claiming that the evidence suggests that Trump violated a federal statute dealing with “corruptly” obstructing, influencing, impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.

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Carter’s determination was part of a ruling in the case of John Eastman, former law school dean at Chapman University, whose emails are being sought by the House committee investigating the Capitol riot. While Carter recognized that a number of Eastman’s emails are protected by privilege, one email that is not is subject to disclosure due to the exception to attorney-client privilege pertaining to communications involving the commission of a crime.

“President Trump attempted to obstruct an official proceeding by launching a pressure campaign to convince Vice President Pence to disrupt the Joint Session on January 6,” Carter wrote, pointing to Trump’s attempts to persuade Pence to reject electoral votes or delay counting them.

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As far as Trump satisfying the element of the statute that requires someone to act “corruptly,” Carter pointed out that “the court has made clear that the threshold for acting ‘corruptly’ is lower than ‘consciousness of wrongdoing,’ meaning a person does not need to know their actions are wrong to break the law.” He then added that Trump still “likely knew that the plan to disrupt the electoral count was wrongful,” so he more than met the standard. 

Additionally, Carter stated that Trump also likely committed the federal offense of conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States, by having an agreement with Eastman to carry out their plan to obstruct the electoral vote count, and that “the evidence shows that President Trump likely knew that the electoral count plan was illegal.”

Carter used the above reasoning to justify the disclosure of one document under the crime-fraud exception, an email chair that was forwarded to Eastman that included a draft memo for Rudy Giuliani, who was acting as Trump’s attorney in challenging the 2020 election results. That memo, Carter said, “recommended that Vice President Pence reject electors from contested states on January 6.”

“The memo is both intimately related to and clearly advanced the plan to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter said, adding that because it “likely furthered the crimes of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States,” it should be disclosed.

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