Trump-allied attorney John Eastman’s ears are probably burning, considering that the House Jan. 6 Select Committee has recently discussed him at length; specifically, they’ve questioned witnesses about an allegation that he came up with a completely bonkers and entirely illegal plan to pressure Mike Pence into overturning the election. (Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified that he told Eastman his plan was “crazy” and would lead to violent protests, which he said Eastman essentially shrugged off.)
On Monday, Eastman filed suit in a New Mexico federal court, demanding that the FBI return his cellphone, which he said was seized from him on June 22 in the parking lot of a restaurant in Santa Fe, where he now lives, and where I am from. The resounding response from everyone in northern New Mexico has been twofold: He lives here? and also, more importantly, Which restaurant, though? Through a deranged, time-consuming and Twitter-heavy use of my day, with the aid of family members, Google street view, and, crucially, several friends from high school, I believe I have answered the second question.
Food is a big preoccupation in northern New Mexico, because it’s the best on earth, and because the choice of where to eat is deeply a deeply political and culturally-specific decision that reveals a lot about the individual. Was Eastman dining at a fancy country club-esque establishment like Quail Run or Las Campanas? Was he out living large at the steakhouse that everyone still calls Steaksmith but is apparently called Bourbon Grill now? Was he eating at the fucking Chick-Fil-A, which only landed in town a few years back? What kind of taste does John Eastman have? Does he even know where the good food is?
Before he was haunting local eateries, Eastman advanced a totally false and obviously bullshit theory of mass voter fraud in a now-infamous memo, where he laid out a step-by-step plan to keep Trump in power, like some kind of hamfisted Scooby Doo villain. In his limited free time, when he has not apparently been trying to subvert democracy and the basic rule of law, he regrettably appears to have moved to Santa Fe. This is not an uncommon problem: weird creeps of national infamy move to New Mexico all the time to be relatively unobserved, like Donald Rumsfeld, who bought a house in Taos, and former Nixon White House Counsel John Ehrlichman, who moved to Santa Fe and grew a beard after serving prison time for his role in Watergate. (His extremely nice daughter taught me piano.)
Public records show that Eastman owns a two-bedroom, two-bath in a relatively nice part of town. Those records indicate that he bought the house in 2003 for a little more than $400,000, and owns another property in Long Beach, CA; Texans and Californians who buy second homes in New Mexico are considered a scourge by locals, and a new legislative proposal would tax their properties at a higher rate. Back in 2008, Eastman also appears to have briefly rented an apartment in a fairly charmless complex on Santa Fe’s south side, which is very funny, but probably only if you’re from here. (Eastman, his attorney, and the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank where Eastman is a senior fellow, all did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
In a motion filed in New Mexico U.S. District Court on June 27, Eastman claimed that FBI agents approached him on the evening of June 22 while he was leaving “a restaurant.” Eastman said that he demanded to see a warrant from them, which he claims they only showed it to him after he was frisked and his phone was seized. The motion also appears to be spinning some other kind of conspiracy theory, reading, “The federal agents identified themselves as FBI agents, but they appeared to be executing a warrant issued at the behest of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General” (OIG). It respectfully demands the return of his phone—an iPhone Pro 12—and that the court order the OIG “to destroy all copies of any information that has already been retrieved or copied from the device.” It adds, “Movant further requests that any access to the cell phone and its information be stayed until he has a full and fair opportunity to assert and protect his Constitutional rights and the privileged communications of his numerous clients.”
A video of the phone seizure also aired Monday night on Tucker Carlson’s program on Fox News. Tucker, broadcasting from Brazil for some reason, scowled in constipated anguish as Eastman claimed that his Fourth Amendment rights were being trampled upon. “This warrant is invalid on its face,” Eastman told him, and likened it to a “general warrant that the British king issued to just go rummage through somebody’s belongings to see if they could find evidence of some crime.”
That’s all certainly a lot of words, if not very good ones. But the restaurant thing immediately seized the interest of New Mexicans; Twitter and a Facebook group called Santa Fe Bulletin Board both immediately filled with heated speculation about where Eastman could have been dining.
I texted several family members to ask their thoughts, one of whom was convinced it was probably Quail Run or somewhere else fancy and secluded.
“We witnessed a patron carry on endlessly about water the wait staff spilled on her there,” the family member offered. “It was quite a performance. We decided they were Republicans by virtue of their demonstration of outrage and personal offense.”
This was compelling evidence, but it wasn’t quite right. I had no choice but to tweet about this. As soon as I did so, I was joined in a Twitter thread by like seven people I know from high school (more specifically, we all used to go to punk shows together at a teen space called Warehouse 21).
Immediately, using the blurry background of the video that aired on Fox News, we began to speculate. Eastman was clearly in a large parking lot, which suggested one of the major artery roads on Santa Fe’s south side. Chick-Fil-A seemed like a likely contender, because Eastman seems like exactly the kind of guy who would eat there, and, according to Google Street View, the strip mall where it’s located is one of the only places that seems to have the kind of large parking lot lights on a high pole seen in the background of the video.
“I bet it was Chick-Fil-A,” my old friend Dave, who I have not seen in like 20 years, tweeted. Other people in the thread disagreed: wouldn’t he be eating somewhere nicer, like The Compound, one of Santa Fe’s nicest restaurants, or at least The Shed, which has a very long wait and appropriately hot chile and incredibly good frozen mocha cake?
“Imagine him being perp walked out of that tiny door,” my friend Warren tweeted. (The Shed has a very low entryway). In other words, while that was a super funny visual, it couldn’t be right; the Shed is also located near the plaza and faces a very narrow street, not a parking lot.
The sticking point for all of us, busily avoiding our jobs and clicking around Google Maps, were the number of trees in the background of the video, along with those big, high, parking lot lights. The density of the trees suggested somewhere near water, I thought, and the size of the parking lot meant it had to be somewhere on the outskirts of town.
“What about something over where Annapurna was?” suggested Dave, naming a restaurant that’s been closed for years, because all of our references are 15 years old, and we too are old. “What’s over there now?”
This was a good theory; Annapurna was in another strip mall on the other end of town, near the veteran’s cemetery. But to me, it didn’t ring true; that strip mall is home to a natural foods store (Eastman definitely wasn’t there), a sushi place (no), and a pho joint (come on).
Nonetheless, we all checked Google Street View again and realized Dave had to be right. “I think Dave actually cracked the case,” my other old friend Liz tweeted; she attached a side-by-side comparison of the parking lot and a still from the video. The shape of the lights, the angle of the trees, the power line overhead; it was unmistakable.
The only thing that made sense is that Eastman was there. The question remained was where, exactly, in the strip mall he could be eating. Dave suggested Valentina’s, a New Mexican restaurant that’s open for dinner, and that’s significantly less upscale than anywhere we’d had in mind, but perhaps an apt choice for someone trying to portray himself a man of the people. Everyone agreed that the tortas are good and that they have fried ice cream. (My friend Liz pointed out that he was parked closer to Kelly’s Liquors, and perhaps could’ve been there instead; but he said he was having dinner, and we have to take him at his word.)
Warren, who’d been about to feed his infant child or something less important, raced to the scene. “I’m here,” he tweeted. He checked with Valentina’s staff and the sushi restaurant, neither of whom recognized an image of a flustered white man being frisked by the feds. (The pho place was closed.) Warren also reported that a journalist from Outside magazine, clearly snooping on our important Twitter thread, showed up while he was looking.
Eastman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he’d gone to Valentina’s and whether he ordered the fried ice cream. Nonetheless, in the impossibly sketchy Trump universe, filled with so many petty, disturbing little mysteries, this one, at least, seems partially solved.
Additional reporting by Warren Langford.
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