Federal Judge Says Donald Trump Likely Committed Crimes as Phone Logs Point to 7-Hour Gap

In a ruling filed this week, a federal judge said Trump and his attorney John Eastman "launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history.

Donald Trump.Photo: James Devaney/GC Images

A federal judge says Donald Trump likely broke the law with his actions leading up to the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021, saying in a court filing Monday that "it is more likely than not" that the former president "attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress" that day.

In the filing, Judge David Carter wrote that Trump, 75, and his attorney John Eastman enacted a plan to overturn the election, and justified that plan with allegations of election fraud.

"But President Trump likely knew the justification was baseless, and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful," Carter wrote.

Elsewhere in the ruling, Carter wrote that Eastman and Trump "launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history. Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower—it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation's government, led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process."

Eastman, a former professor at Chapman University, has become a central figure in the investigation into the riots due to a memo obtained by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which showed he had written a detailed plan to attempt to persuade then-Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the 2020 election results on Jan. 6.

Pence did not, instead releasing a statement hours before Congress met to certify the election for Joe Biden, informing both the president and the public that he didn't have the constitutional power — or any intention — to intervene with the country's vote.

The rest is history, with Trump denouncing Pence's decision at a rally held near the Capitol that same day, in which he urged his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol building.

Once there, the mob became violent and ransacked the Capitol building, forcing Pence and other lawmakers to be quickly evacuated and placed under lockdown. Some in the pro-Trump mob were heard chanting that they wanted to "hang" Pence. Five people died due to the events of that day.

Monday's ruling upheld a subpoena for documents belonging to Eastman sought by the House committee investigating the 2021 Capitol riots.

The news about the federal judge's ruling comes amid new reports that White House phone logs turned over to the bipartisan congressional committee investigating the riots show a seven-hour gap in the former president's communications that day.

Woodward and Costa obtained the documents showing the gap in communications from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m, a stretch of time that includes when the building was overrun by Trump supporters.

Woodward and Costa report that the records the committee has accessed show that Trump had phone conversations throughout the remainder of the day — with at least eight people in the morning and 11 people that night.

The committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots said in a court filing earlier this month that Trump and his allies — including Eastman — could potentially be charged by the Department of Justice with criminal violations for their role in the event.

In a statement issued in early March, Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said he believes "Eastman's emails may show that he helped Donald Trump advance a corrupt scheme to obstruct the counting of electoral college ballots and a conspiracy to impede the transfer of power."

Thompson noted, however, that the select committee "is not conducting a criminal investigation."

Trump has long maintained the investigation into his conduct around Jan. 6 is politically motivated and he did nothing wrong. The members of the committee, however, aren't convinced.

Speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper in December, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — an anti-Trump Republican serving on the committee — said he wasn't prepared to say whether he believes the former president committed a crime, but that the House committee should have "a pretty good idea" once its probe is over.

"I don't want to go there yet to say, 'Do I believe he has [committed a crime]'? I think that's obviously a pretty big thing to say. We want to know though, and I think we'll — by the end of our investigation and by the time our report is out — have a pretty good idea," Kinzinger, 44, said on CNN's State of the Union. "We'll be able to have out on the public record anything Justice Department needs maybe in pursuit of that."

The congressman continued then: "Nobody is above the law. And if the president knowingly allowed what happened on Jan. 6 to happen and, in fact, was giddy about it, and that violates a criminal statute, he needs to be held accountable for that."

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