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The author of the now-infamous memo that pushed Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election on January 6 claimed that the riots that ensued on that day were a “setup” used to “trap” supporters of President Trump in illegal activities.
John Eastman, a lawyer who played a key role in Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and stay in office last winter, said this weekend that the pro-Trump riots that sacked Congress were instigated by “FBI plants,” Antifa and reporters to lure Trump supporters into trouble.
“The whole thing was a setup. It was a setup. John Sullivan, Antifa guy, got paid 60,000 bucks by CNN to break in and get video of violence. That is a fact,” Eastman said, pushing the false and debunked claim pushed by right-wing conspiracists that an Antifa activist was also a CNN employee and was involved in the riot.
But Eastman wasn’t done. He quickly pivoted to another disproven conspiracy theory that aims to shift the blame for the violent riot to anyone but Trump: That the people who began the riot were actually FBI agents embedded in the right-wing militia groups The Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
“The Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, not just kind of wallflowers sitting on the side of the association but people instigating within the association, are FBI plants. It was a set-up. And our reports say our guys walked into a trap,” Eastman said.
The comments were made to Democratic activists with the group The Undercurrent, who go undercover and pretend to be a pro-Trump activist in order to try to get Republicans to say what they really think on camera. The video was the second installment in a series of releases they’re making of the conversation.
Eastman heads the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, and made the remarks at the right-wing think tank’s annual gala. The event’s headliner was Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Eastman has publicly tried to distance himself from some of his memos’ most extreme claims, which argued that Pence could and should reject the electoral ballots from a number of states and try to throw the election to Trump. He told the National Review that it was “crazy” to think the strategy of having Pence reject states’ votes was politically “viable,” even as he said he thought a lesser but still extreme strategy of having Pence try to force a delay in the count to give state GOP officials one more chance at trying to reverse their states’ results was a legitimate path forward.
But in this conversation, he made clear he still believes that—and blamed Pence for not going along, arguing it was out of selfishness and not principle.
“Mike Pence is an establishment guy at the end of the day,” he said. "The establishment Republicans in D.C. bought into this very myopic view that Trump was destroying the Republican Party. And what Trump was doing is destroying the inside-the-beltway Republican Party. … They can't tolerate that because they all have nice cushy livings.”