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As more ‘fake electors’ face charges, a key witness emerges

Kenneth Chesebro spoke to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee during a hearing where Chesebro accepted a plea deal in October.Alyssa Pointer/Associated Press

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 the cases.

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

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

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In August, a grand jury in Atlanta returned an indictment against former President Donald Trump and 18 allies, including three who were fake electors in Georgia. And in July, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel 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 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 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 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, Arora said, Chesebro was interviewed in Detroit by Nessel’s office, and he was also listed as a witness this week in the Nevada indictment.

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Asked if 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.”

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

Chesebro worked for Vice President Al Gore during the presidential election recount battle of 2000 but later came to back 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 Trump, a development that left some of Chesebro’s former colleagues scratching their heads.

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

Chesebro’s lawyers continue to generally defend his conduct, saying he was simply an attorney offering legal advice during the 2020 election. But Arora said 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.

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“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 different approaches.

Fani Willis, district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, brought a broad racketeering case that includes Trump and top aides including Rudy, his former personal lawyer, and Mark Meadows, who served as White House chief of staff. 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, although 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, special counsel in the Justice Department who has charged Trump in his own federal election inquiry, underscore the illegitimacy of 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.

Trump made similar statements after his 2016 loss in the Iowa caucus, when he claimed that Sen. 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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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.