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Trump’s electoral scheme allies caught in DOJ crosshairs

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The same-day searches of lawyers John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark indicate the Justice Department (DOJ) is scrutinizing former President Trump’s closest allies in his 2020 election schemes. 

The two men were key figures in Trump’s efforts to unwind the election: Eastman was a Trump campaign attorney who drafted memos suggesting Vice President Mike Pence had the legal authority to buck his ceremonial duties to certify the election results, while Trump was prepared to install Clark, a DOJ lawyer, to forward investigations into his baseless claims of election fraud.

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The FBI on June 22 went to Clark’s home in a “pre-dawn raid,” one of his associates said last week, while a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. confirmed that there was law enforcement activity in the area of the former DOJ official’s suburban Virginia home that same day. 

Just hours later, FBI agents executed another search warrant on Eastman in New Mexico. 

“The actions by the FBI in conjunction with the Inspector General and Department of Justice are seemingly very significant for a broader criminal investigation that might very well directly implicate President Trump,” said Ryan Goodman, co-director of the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, told The Hill. 

Court filings submitted by Eastman in an attempt to have his phone returned to him show that the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) sought the warrant. 

The inspector general’s office announced on Jan. 25, 2021 that it was launching an investigation into “whether any former or current DOJ official engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election.” 

Little has emerged about the investigation since it was announced just two days after The New York Times first reported Trump’s plan to install Eastman as head of the DOJ.

“The investigation will encompass all relevant allegations that may arise that are within the scope of the OIG’s jurisdiction,” OIG said in a press release at the time. 

Clark, a longtime environmental lawyer, was prepared to send a letter to officials in Georgia and other key states asking them to hold off on certifying their election results so DOJ could investigate alleged voter fraud.

But the involvement of other aspects of the Justice Department indicate there could be a criminal component to the searches that go beyond reviewing Clark’s conduct as a DOJ employee.  

“It sounds as though the nucleus for this investigation is in part the Inspector General reviewing the conduct of Jeffrey Clark as a former Justice Department official and then it broadens out to others whose information might be relevant,” Goodman said. 

“But it’s very difficult to see how this investigation can steer clear of implicating Donald Trump if indeed they find that Jeffrey Clark himself engaged in crimes to try and overturn the election. The problem for the president is that he worked hand and glove with Clark as far as we know from all of the evidence.”  

The involvement of the DOJ’s watchdog, which typically operates independently of the rest of the department, adds a new wrinkle to what’s known about federal prosecutors’ Jan. 6 investigation. 

Michael Bromwich, who served as the Justice Department’s inspector general during the Clinton administration and as a prosecutor for the independent counsel that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal, says the developments indicate that the OIG is collaborating with the federal prosecutors conducting the broader Jan. 6 investigation.  

“They don’t do that without working with, partnering with, federal prosecution offices,” Bromwich said. “My guess is that these investigations have merged or are merging.” 

“I’m sure in this case, there has been close coordination and frequent communication between the prosecutors, the FBI and the OIG,” he added. 

Glenn Fine, who led DOJ OIG from 2000 to 2011, also noted that the office would typically pursue a subpoena, not a warrant, if conducting a purely administrative investigation rather than a criminal one. 

“It seems like they are working with the FBI. It sounds like this is either a coordinated or joint investigation and they’re typically led by a prosecutor or U.S. attorney, and so I would believe the OIG and FBI and the prosecutors are working either in coordinated fashion or joint fashion,” said Fine, who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

“Typically if it’s an administrative matter you’d issue a subpoena rather than a search warrant so that does indicate at least they are looking at some criminal aspect of it – but it’s just an indication.” 

It’s unclear what prompted federal law enforcement to conduct the two searches. 

But according to a copy of the search warrant that Eastman filed in court this week, a federal magistrate judge authorized the seizure of his phone on June 17, the day after a select committee hearing revealed Eastman had asked Trump for a pardon in the final days of the administration. 

Bromwich said he believes the search warrant may have been prompted by the select committee’s public allegations. 

“It’s likely that the timing of the search was related to the select committee’s hearing,” he said. “The investigators may have thought the public airing of the allegations might increase the likelihood that he would be inclined to destroy evidence.” 

Eastman has asked a federal judge to order his phone be returned to him, challenging the search warrant and arguing the OIG has no authority to investigate him since he is not a current or former DOJ employee.  

But both Fine and Bromwich said the office has broad authority to conduct criminal investigations, including the ability to obtain the records of those who are not employed by the Justice Department.  

“They also have the authority to seize evidence as it relates to an attorney at the Department of Justice’s conduct. So while Eastman was not an attorney at the Department of Justice, if he has information related to an open matter that OIG has, they have the authority to seize that evidence,” Fine said. 

In a June 23 hearing, the select committee said it had obtained evidence linking Eastman and Clark through an attorney named Kenneth Klukowski, who worked at the DOJ for about a month at the end of the Trump administration.  

Klukowski was detailed to serve on Clark’s staff and helped him prepare a draft letter to Georgia officials that would have effectively thrown the department’s full force into investigating Trump’s allegations of elections fraud. 

Klukowski, now in private practice, issued a statement this week denying that he was a go-between for Clark and Eastman. 

“That accusation is false both in its broad outlines and its details,” he said. 

But the OIG’s seizure of Eastman’s phone suggests the department has established a reason to believe the lawyer at least possesses information regarding the internal DOJ scheme aimed at overturning the 2020 election. 

That again could lead back to Trump.  

Top Trump DOJ officials have testified that Clark told them he repeatedly met with the president, violating Justice Department policy about maintaining separation between the White House and the department. 

Call logs obtained by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol also found the two spoke repeatedly.  

“The two are so directly involved to the point that I do not know how the Justice Department would indict Clark on the basis of the evidence we have without one way or another defining President Trump as a co-conspirator. It’s very hard to accomplish that – if they indicted based on the evidence that we have,” Goodman said, noting there would be other exonerating evidence on Trump’s part that has not been presented. 

“But that seems like a stretch given that we have so much information. We have so much testimony. We have so many documents.”