Claremont Institute defends senior fellow who advised Trump on overturning election

The Claremont Institute office resides proudly in Claremont, California on Foothill Boulevard.
“The Claremont Institute will not remain silent in the face of widespread lies peddled by malicious domestic political opponents,” officials from the think tank wrote. (Olivia Shrager • The Student Life)

The Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank based in Upland, published a statement on Oct. 11 defending senior fellow John Eastman, the lawyer who advised former President Donald Trump on overturning the 2020 election in Congress. 

While the Claremont Institute is not institutionally affiliated with the Claremont Colleges, three members of the Claremont McKenna College faculty are fellows of the institute. It was founded in 1979 by four alumni of Claremont Graduate University.

Eastman first became one of Trump’s legal advisors in mid-2019, when Trump saw the law professor on television, according to The New York Times. Following Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, Eastman presented the former president with legal procedures that he said could result in Trump being certified as the winner of the election.

Eastman furthered Trump’s narrative of the election as “stolen” through public appearances, even giving a speech alongside Rudy Giuliani at the rally immediately preceding the riot at the capitol on Jan. 6.

His actions quickly faced backlash from the academic community. On Jan. 13, the president of Chapman University announced ​​that the college and Eastman had reached an agreement in which he retired as a law professor, effective immediately. 

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, a major organization of conservative lawyers and academics, removed Eastman from a prominent committee chairman position. 

The American Political Science Association moved all panels presented by the Claremont Institute online for its annual meeting on Sept. 30, two of which included Eastman, citing protest concerns. After this change, the institute withdrew its participation in the conference altogether.

Attention to Eastman’s actions were renewed when a two-page memo he wrote detailing a direct list of steps for overturning the election was published by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their book “Peril” last month.

Following this, Claremont Institute Chairman Thomas Klingenstein and President Ryan Williams released the Oct. 11 statement, which called the reinvigorated scrutiny of Eastman a “disinformation, de-platforming, and ostracism campaign.”

The statement claims that Eastman never advised then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results, only arguing to delay the certification of the vote by seven to ten days to allow state legislatures to determine the validity of their submitted votes, which could have resulted in either Trump or Biden ultimately being certified as the winner. 

While this was one approach presented in Eastman’s six-page memo, three others were explicitly listed— two describing expected Biden certifications and one describing several procedures by which the vice president could ensure that Trump would be certified as the winner.

“These attempts to limit the Claremont Institute’s and John Eastman’s ability to express their views mark a dangerous escalation in the censorship now threatening American democracy,” Klingenstein and Williams said. “The Claremont Institute will not remain silent in the face of widespread lies peddled by malicious domestic political opponents.”

Mainstream legal institutions have largely rejected Eastman and are unlikely to allow him access to “levers of power,” Amanda Hollis-Brusky, an associate professor of politics at Pomona College who specializes in Supreme Court politics and the conservative legal movement, told TSL.

She cited the Federalist Society’s and American Political Science Association’s disavowals of Eastman as examples and said it’s unlikely that any reputable law school would hire Eastman.

However, Hollis-Brusky sees Eastman continuing to have an influence in broader politics. 

“Politically, there’s a rejection of credentialing, there’s a rejection of the academy, there’s a rejection of these traditional metrics of what makes someone qualified,” she said. “I could see [Eastman] really thriving on the talk radio circuit, on Tucker Carlson, Hannity, and these outlets that feed on the anger of being scorned by mainstream culture.”

Two Claremont Institute fellows, Joseph M. Bessette and Mark Blitz, and one Claremont Institute senior fellow, Charles Kesler, are current members of CMC’s faculty. The institute was founded by four former students of Harry Jaffa, a professor at CMC and CGU, who later became a fellow before his death in 2015.

Kesler declined to comment.

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