“You may recognize me as the guy with the hat standing next to Rudy Giuliani on January 6,” John Eastman told the New Mexico crowd in October 2022. “The last one to speak before President Trump.”
Eastman, the reviled former law professor who authored the blueprint for Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election, was not in Albuquerque to express contrition for his role in an attempted coup. He was there to lay the groundwork for rejecting votes in 2022, according to audio obtained by Documented.
If Republicans lose in New Mexico, Eastman is laying the groundwork for legal challenges and to give MAGA-aligned county officials a pretext to reject the results.
“We will not let what happened in 2020 ever happen again”
Eastman was addressing a summit organized by the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), the $19.7 million Trump-aligned institution which is working to create “permanent election integrity infrastructure” in key states to recruit conspiracy-minded activists to become poll workers and challengers.
CPI’s Election Integrity Network project is led by Cleta Mitchell, the veteran lawyer who also supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. It was Mitchell who asked Eastman to engineer the 2020 Trump campaign’s far-fetched legal argument used to challenge electoral certification in Congress.
CPI and its projects “employ or assist at least 20 key operatives reportedly involved in Trump’s failed effort to subvert the 2020 election,” according to Grid, including former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark and former Defense Department advisor Kash Patel.
CPI's “election integrity” efforts grew directly out of Trump's failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election, according to Marshall Yates, an Election Integrity Network official who spoke at the New Mexico summit.
“We're all here because of what happened in 2020,” Yates told attendees, noting that he was previously Chief of Staff to Rep. Mo Brooks, a central player in Trump’s effort to block Biden’s victory in Congress.
“The election objection did not go as we wanted in 2020, on January 6, but we built up and this movement is here today partly because we didn't get to have the debate we needed in Congress,” Yates said. “We were shut out—for whatever reason that was, whatever happened, whoever planned it—but we didn't get to have that happen. But luckily it sparked a grassroots movement across the country for election integrity. And without all of us rising up and saying, putting our foot down and saying, no, we will not let what happened in 2020 ever happen again, we wouldn't be in this room."
'20 Coup Plotter Personally Involved in '22 Election Challenges
Eastman didn’t just give a pep rally at the New Mexico summit. He gave activists specific direction on how to challenge voters at polls—in some cases, providing erroneous legal advice. He urged election conspiracy theorists to become poll workers and election judges who will adjudicate poll challenges, “because then you're the ones making the decisions, not just raising questions about the decisions.”
Eastman also stated that he would be personally involved in efforts to challenge election results, even urging activists to call him when their voter challenges are rejected.
If election judges are “not unanimously approving the challenge” to a voter’s eligibility, Eastman said, “Call me. Call me, and document it, write it down, as much detail as you can,” he said. “Create those notes because that becomes the evidence in these legal challenges if we need them.”
A poll challenger’s notes, Eastman emphasized, “become the basis for an affidavit in a court challenge after the fact.”
“I'm going to leave on the table out there, a stack of my cards so that if you need a phone number to call and you're not getting any headway otherwise, call me and we'll see what we need to do,” Eastman said.
Manufacturing a Pretext to Reject the Results
In addition to generating evidence to challenge election results in the courts, there are very real concerns that Eastman’s theories will provide a pretext for local officials to reject the will of voters.
Otero County, New Mexico attracted national attention earlier this year when local officials initially refused to certify the June primary results, citing unfounded conspiracies pushed by far-right activists in the state. Local officials in other counties might try a similar gambit in November, state democracy advocates say.
According to the audio, Eastman is preparing to argue that voter challenges were rejected that shouldn’t have been rejected, and that ballots were counted that shouldn’t have been counted.
If Republicans lose in New Mexico, those arguments could give MAGA-aligned county officials—like those in Otero County—a cover story to not certify the results.
Eastman, for his part, has a history of generating excuses for officials to reject the will of voters. In 2020, Eastman invented a rationale for Pennsylvania lawmakers to discount mail-in ballots and retabulate the state’s popular vote, which he argued would “provide some cover” for the legislature to hand the state’s electors to Trump.
The summit audio suggests that Eastman may be setting the stage for an analogous effort on a local scale.
Pushing Unfounded Voter Challenges
One problem is that some of Eastman’s suggested voter challenges are off-base.
Among other suggested challenges, Eastman said that a voter registering at the polls must show an ID with an address in the county, and that there are "grounds for challenging somebody" if a voter “come[s] in and their ID says they live down in Las Cruces and they're trying to vote in Albuquerque.”
However, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State, a person may register and vote if they show a photo ID and a document that shows an address in the county. In other words, Eastman is wrong—a voter with a photo ID showing a Las Cruces address could vote in Albuquerque, provided they showed a utility bill or other document showing an Albuquerque address.
Activists who follow Eastman’s advice and lodge baseless challenges could cause disruptions at polling places, leading to longer lines and intimidating some voters. And when such challenges are justifiably rejected, the fact of that rejection might be used as justification for MAGA-aligned county commissioners to refuse to certify the results.
Far From a Pariah, Eastman Remains Involved in Elections
A federal judge recently concluded that it was “more likely than not” that Eastman and Trump had participated in a “campaign to overturn a democratic election” in 2020 using a plan that “not only lacked factual basis but also legal justification.” The judge concluded that Eastman had advanced “a coup in search of a legal theory.”
“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,” the judge wrote. “If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”
In normal times, Eastman would be sidelined from the political sphere.
Instead, Eastman is embraced by powerful figures in the conservative movement and remains deeply involved with our democratic processes. Eastman tried to overturn the 2020 election, and is now setting the stage to challenge the results in 2022.