Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday, Feb. 3, 2022. Eastman has come under scrutiny for his membership in the Oath Keepers, a right-wing paramilitary group whose leaders have been charged with sedition for their role in the Jan. 6, riot at the U.S. Capitol. A House committee will meet next week to investigate the Oath Keepers. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

House to hold committee hearing on Oath Keepers

Lawmaker’s membership in group draws public pressure

Responding to public pressure concerning Rep. David Eastman’s, R-Wasilla, ties to the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, a legislative committee will hold a meeting Thursday, Feb. 10, to investigate the organization.

The House of Representatives was set to take action against Eastman on Monday, but that was tabled after Eastman raised a point of order on the floor.

Speaking with reporters Friday, House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a meeting to hear testimony regarding the Oath Keepers.

The hearing was not an investigation, Tuck said, but an attempt to gain information on the organization.

“This is just informational, it’s in no way an investigation,” Tuck said. “There’s a lot of public attention towards this, we just want to clear the air.”

Tuck said he had invited members of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who recently authored a study on the Oath Keepers’ role in the Jan. 6 insurrection to give testimony as well as representatives from the Congressional panel investigating the riot and the Anti-Defamation League.

[House tables vote affecting lawmaker with Oath Keepers ties]

The meeting would not be open to public testimony, Tuck said.

The House Committee on Committees met early Monday and voted to strip Eastman of his committee assignments, but that meeting was not widely publicized. The floor vote on the decision was tabled later Monday.

Eastman said he welcomed the public process, but declined to answer further questions.

“I think it’s important that when we go through any process in the Legislature that we do so with notice to the public and the opportunity for the public to participate as much as reasonably possible,” Eastman said. “I’m glad for any opportunity for the public to be engaged, to know what the decisions are as we’re making them, not find out about it afterward.”

Tuck said members were ready to vote Monday, but after the objection, some lawmakers reconsidered their position and wanted to investigate the issue further.

“I’m trying to calm everyone down,” Tuck said. “I’m hearing so many accusations, I just want to learn more.”

An anonymous group, Expel Eastman, has circulated an online petition to have Eastman removed from the Legislature citing a provision within the Alaska State Constitution barring members of groups that advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government from serving in public office. Expel Eastman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tuck said he welcomed testimony from members of the Oath Keepers and wanted to make sure the committee meeting was as balanced as possible. On Friday he invited members of the House to make suggestions for testimony to the committee. Tuck said Eastman was welcome to testify but stressed he didn’t want to give the appearance the representative was under investigation or that the meeting was laying the groundwork for potential disciplinary action.

“I don’t want to put him on defense,” Tuck said. “That’s because there’s public outcry for more to happen.”

Following Friday’s floor session, House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said leadership wanted to thoroughly vett the issue before taking any action.

“Taking somebody’s committee assignments away from them is a serious thing,” Stutes said. “We’re not going to make a decision without vetting the issues, in the meantime, we’re going to move forward with taking care of the state’s business. This has been on the front page for far too long.”

During special orders Friday — a time when lawmakers are given wide latitude to speak on subjects of their choice — gubernatorial candidate Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, said he appreciated that organizations like the Oath Keepers existed.

“I am very grateful that we have men and women who take their oath seriously,” Kurka said.

Eastman was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, but did not enter the Capitol building and has not been charged with a crime. In a Jan. 30, post to his personal website, Eastman said he would have intervened to stop the violence at the Capitol if he had been able.

in 2017, Eastman was censured by the House of Representatives for suggesting there are women in Alaska who intentionally get pregnant in order to get a free trip to the city in order to receive an abortion. Eastman was previously stripped of his committee assignments in 2018 when he illegally disclosed a confidential ethics complaint to a member of the press.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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