Former President Donald Trump probably broke the law by encouraging supporters to help him hang onto power after his defeat in the 2020 election, a federal judge wrote in an opinion released Monday.
“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,” US District Court Judge David Carter said in the ruling.
Carter also found that both Trump and John Eastman—an attorney who provided Trump with a bogus legal theory that Vice President Mike Pence could help overturn the election results by refusing to certify electoral votes—“more likely than not dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
Carter’s findings came in a ruling ordering Eastman to turn over emails to a House committee investigating the January 6 attack on Congress. Eastman had sued to block enforcement of a congressional subpoena for those documents. Carter found that there was enough evidence that the emails related to crimes to allow enforcement of the subpoena. But the judge’s language went much further.
Eastman and Trump “launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” Carter wrote. “Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower—it was a coup in search of a legal theory.”
The judge continued: “If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”
Carter’s ruling has no direct legal bearing on whether the Justice Department will pursue criminal charges against Trump. But it looks likely to increase political pressure on the Biden administration to prosecute the former president over his efforts to seize power.