AP

Lawyers: Eastman advised to plead the Fifth in Georgia probe

Aug 31, 2022, 1:13 PM | Updated: 1:30 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — Lawyers for John Eastman, a lead architect of some of Donald Trump’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election, said Wednesday they advised their client to assert attorney-client privilege and invoke his constitutional right to remain silent when testifying before a special grand jury investigating possible illegal election interference in Georgia.

Charles Burnham and Harvey Silverglate confirmed in a statement that Eastman had appeared before the panel in Fulton County, complying with a summons from the district attorney. They declined to comment on the questions or testimony, citing respect for the secrecy of the grand jury process.

Eastman is one of a number of Trump advisers, attorneys and allies whose testimony Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has sought to compel in the case. Former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who’s been told he may face criminal charges in the investigation, testified in mid-August. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, is fighting his subpoena. Willis filed petitions last week seeking the testimony of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump-allied attorney Sidney Powell, among others. And conservative attorney L. Lin Wood Jr. said this week he’s been told Willis wants him to appear.

Willis’ investigation began early last year, shortly after a recording of a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger became public. In that call, Trump suggested the state’s top election official could “find” the votes needed to overturn his narrow loss in the state. But it has become clear that the scope of the probe has broadened considerably since then.

In their statement Wednesday, Eastman’s attorneys accused Willis of embarking on “an unprecedented path of criminalizing controversial or disfavored legal theories.”

As Trump and his allies began a campaign to spread false claims about the election, Eastman circulated what was essentially an academic proposal challenging the workings of the 130-year-old Electoral Count Act that governs the process for tallying the election results in Congress.

The first part of the plan was to put in place a slate of “alternate” electors in seven battleground states to sign certificates falsely stating that Trump, not Democrat Joe Biden, had won their states. Willis has told the 16 Georgia Republicans who joined that effort that they are targets of her investigation.

The second part of the proposal involved convincing then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count some of the electoral votes won by Biden when presiding over Congress the certification of election results on Jan. 6, 2021. But Pence refused to stray from his ceremonial role that day, even as Trump supporters broke into the Capitol, chanting for him to be hung.

Wood, who sued unsuccessfully to block the certification of Georgia’s election results, said Wednesday that he’s willing to testify before the special grand jury.

Wood said a lawyer who represents him in a separate matter told him late last week that Willis’ office wants to subpoena him to testify. But he said he hadn’t received a formal request and didn’t know when they would want to see him.

“If they want to ask me questions, I’m happy to answer them,” Wood told The Associated Press by phone. “I have nothing to hide.”

Wood has long been known for his representation of high-profile clients — including Richard Jewell, who was wrongly accused in the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta — particularly in defamation cases.

In a document filed last week seeking to compel Powell’s testimony, Willis noted that Wood hosted meetings at his home in South Carolina “for the purpose of exploring options to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.” Powell asked Wood, who’s licensed as a lawyer in Georgia, to help find Georgia residents who would be willing to serve as plaintiffs in lawsuits contesting the election results in the state, the petition says.

Wood said he didn’t know Powell well at the time but that she got in touch and asked if a group could meet at his home in late November 2020. He agreed to reach out to some prominent Georgia Republicans on Powell’s behalf, but said he doesn’t remember exactly who he called and whether they ended up joining any lawsuit filed by Powell.

The lawsuits filed by Powell and Wood were among many that were filed around the country in the wake of the 2020 election, many of them claiming that widespread election fraud had occurred. The lawsuits were ultimately dismissed, and state and federal election officials have consistently said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.

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Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.

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More on Donald Trump-related investigations: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

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Lawyers: Eastman advised to plead the Fifth in Georgia probe