John Eastman, the Trump-allied lawyer who wrote memos urging then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results, said in a court filing Monday that federal agents seized his phone last week.
In papers filed in federal court in New Mexico, Eastman said he was stopped last week in New Mexico by federal agents who executed a search warrant and seized his phone. He said FBI agents stopped him Wednesday evening as he was walking to his car after having had dinner at a restaurant with his wife and a friend. The agents patted Eastman down, seized his phone and “forced” him to unlock it, he said.
The warrant authorized seizure of “any electronic or digital device—including cell phones, USB devices, iPads, and computers identified in the affidavit—and all information in such devices,” the court filing said. Eastman is seeking his phone’s return.
NBC News has asked the Justice Department for comment.
CNN first reported the court filing Monday.
Federal agents the same day executed a search warrant at the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who, like Eastman, has played a prominent role in the Jan. 6 committee hearings this month. “They took all of the electronics from my house,” Clark said on Fox News last week.
Eastman’s suit said that the federal agents at first refused to show him the warrant and that when they eventually did, it indicated that his phone had been taken on behalf of the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.
“After seizing the device(s), law enforcement intends to transport the device(s) to Washington, D.C., or to the DOJ-OIG forensic laboratory in Northern Virginia,” the warrant said, according to Eastman’s filing.
The inspector general’s website says the office is examining “the role and activity of DOJ and its components in preparing for and responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.”
Eastman contends the seizure of his property was “unlawful” because he doesn’t work for the Justice Department and because the inspector general is empowered only to “initiate, conduct and supervise” investigations involving people inside the Justice Department.
Legal experts said the inspector general can and does conduct criminal investigations and can follow the evidence wherever it leads. In this case, agents had to convince a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe a crime was committed to get the judge to sign off on the warrant, the experts said.
“The inspector general has to coordinate jurisdiction with the FBI over criminal investigations of public corruption by DOJ officials,” said Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general.
The search warrant for Eastman appears to be an outgrowth of an investigation Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced in January 2021, three days after The New York Times first reported the extent to which Clark sought to help President Donald Trump use the Justice Department to push his bogus claims of election fraud.
Clark was a top official at the Justice Department at the time of the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. According to testimony last week before the House committee investigating the insurrection, Clark was also an avid supporter of Trump’s election conspiracy theories and Trump’s choice to be acting attorney general in the waning days of his presidency. Trump later backed off the plan after Justice Department leadership threatened to quit en masse if he was given the top post.
In a committee hearing this month, Pence’s counsel at the time, Greg Jacob, testified that Eastman urged the vice president on Jan. 5 to reject electors from contested states in a bid to overturn the election, even after having acknowledged the day before that doing so would be illegal.
The congressional hearing also featured an email Eastman sent to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani after Jan. 6 that read, “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.”
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.
Ken Dilanian is the intelligence and national security correspondent for NBC News, based in Washington.
Ryan J. Reilly and Daniel Barnes contributed.
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