Sunday, May 19, 2024

Twenty-four of the so-called fake Trump electors now face criminal charges in three different states, and one of the legal architects of the plan to deploy them, Kenneth Chesebro, has emerged as a witness in all of the cases.

Mr. Chesebro, a Harvard-trained lawyer, helped develop the plan to have Republicans in battleground states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020 present themselves as Trump electors. The scheme was part of an effort to have Congress block or delay certification of Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

Earlier this week, a Nevada grand jury indicted six former Trump electors, including top leaders of the state’s Republican Party, on charges of forging and submitting fraudulent documents.

In August, a grand jury in Atlanta returned an indictment against former president Donald J. Trump and 18 allies, including three who were fake electors in Georgia. And in July, Attorney General Dana Nessel of Michigan brought charges against all 16 Republicans who acted as Trump electors in her state. (In October, she dropped charges against one of them, James Renner, in exchange for his cooperation.)

Interest in Mr. Chesebro intensified after he pleaded guilty in October to a single felony charge of conspiracy in Georgia and was sentenced to five years’ probation. He had originally been charged with seven felonies, including one charge under the state racketeering law.

“Everything happened after the plea in Georgia,” said Manny Arora, one of Mr. Chesebro’s lawyers in Georgia. “Everyone wants to talk about the memos and who he communicated with.”

The lawyer was referring to memos written by Mr. Chesebro after the 2020 election that outlined what he himself called “a bold, controversial strategy” that was likely to be rejected by the Supreme Court. Since his plea agreement in Georgia, Mr. Arora said, Mr. Chesebro was interviewed in Detroit by Ms. Nessel’s office, and he was also listed as a witness this week in the Nevada indictment.

Asked if Mr. Chesebro had agreements in place to avoid prosecution in the various jurisdictions, another one of his lawyers, Robert Langford, said “that would be a prudent criminal defense, that’s typically what you do,” adding that he did not “want to comment on anything happening in any of the states.”

Mr. Chesebro is also expected in Arizona next week, where the state’s attorney general, Kris Mayes, has been conducting her own inquiry into the electors plot for several months, people with knowledge of that inquiry said. (Mr. Chesebro’s Michigan and Arizona appearances were reported earlier by CNN and The Washington Post.)

Mr. Chesebro worked for Vice President Al Gore during the presidential election recount battle of 2000 but later came to back Mr. Trump. He and another lawyer, John Eastman, are seen as the key legal architects of the plan to use bogus electors in swing states lost by Mr. Trump, a development that left some of his old colleagues scratching their heads.

“When the world turned and Donald Trump became president, I stopped hearing from him,” Laurence H. Tribe, who was Mr. Gore’s chief legal counsel and a Chesebro mentor, recently said.

Mr. Chesebro’s lawyers continue to generally defend his conduct, saying he was simply an attorney offering legal advice during the 2020 election. But Mr. Arora said that the legal team in Georgia decided to take a plea agreement because the document that was signed by the fake electors in Georgia did not include language explaining that what they were signing was a contingency plan, pending litigation.

“They didn’t do that in Georgia,” he explained. “Because he was involved in it and that language wasn’t in there, we decided to plead to that count. It wasn’t because the whole thing was fraudulent or that this was a scam.”

The three state electors investigations have taken very different approaches.

Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., brought a broad racketeering case that includes Mr. Trump and top aides like Rudolph W. Giuliani, his former personal lawyer, and Mark Meadows, who served as White House chief of staff. Ms. Willis reached cooperation agreements with most of the fake electors before charges were brought.

The Michigan and Nevada cases center on the electors themselves, rather than those who aided their actions, though Ms. Nessel has said that her inquiry remains open.

Underlying claims of widespread election fraud that propelled the alleged fake electors scheme have never been substantiated. New legal filings this week from Jack Smith, the special counsel in the Justice Department who has charged Mr. Trump in his own federal election inquiry, underscore the illegitimacy of Mr. Trump’s chronic claims of election fraud, highlighting that as far back as 2012 he was making baseless contentions about President Barack Obama’s defeat of Mitt Romney.

Mr. Trump made similar statements after his 2016 loss in the Iowa caucus, when he claimed that Senator Ted Cruz “didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it,” and after he lost the popular vote in the general election to Hillary Clinton, which he said he won “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

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