In the emerging history of how a small group of lawyers aided former President Donald J. Trump’s attempt to stay in power despite losing the 2020 election, Kenneth Chesebro has received far less attention than others like Rudolph W. Giuliani and John Eastman.
But documents show that Mr. Chesebro played a central part in developing the idea of having Trump supporters pretend to be electors from states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr., then claiming that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to cite the purported existence of rival slates to delay counting or to discard real Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden on Jan. 6, 2021.
On Wednesday, several dozen prominent legal figures submitted an ethics complaint to the Supreme Court of New York’s attorney grievance committee, calling Mr. Chesebro “the apparent mastermind behind key aspects of the fake elector ploy” and accusing him of conspiring “with Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Eastman and others to subvert our democracy.”
The complaint said Mr. Chesebro had acted with “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or reckless or intentional misrepresentation” in violation of rules of conduct for lawyers who, like him, are licensed to practice in New York.
The request was organized by Lawyers Defending American Democracy; a similar request by the group helped lead to the suspension of Mr. Giuliani’s law license in June 2021 and to a continuing investigation by the State Bar of California into Mr. Eastman. The complaint against Mr. Chesebro did not explicitly call for him to lose his license but asked for an investigation and “appropriate sanctions.”
Adam S. Kaufmann, a lawyer for Mr. Chesebro, condemned the complaint against his client, warning that it was dangerous to attack lawyers for providing legal theories to political candidates. Drawing on a 1960 precedent involving a close vote in Hawaii, he said Mr. Chesebro was offering the Trump campaign advice for “keeping its options open” through Jan. 6 as a “contingency” in case the courts found electoral fraud in any of the swing states where Mr. Trump’s team was disputing the outcome.
The idea that Mr. Pence could delay or block the electoral vote count on Jan. 6 was a key part of the events leading to the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters. Some of those supporters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” because the vice president — whose lawyers told him there was no legal basis for him to delay or discard the official state-certified votes for Mr. Biden — rejected Mr. Trump’s pressure to do so anyway.
On Nov. 18, 2020, Mr. Chesebro wrote the earliest known memo putting forward a proposal for having a slate of Trump supporters purport to be electors, in that case for Wisconsin. He expanded the proposal for other states, including in a letter to Mr. Giuliani on Dec. 13, 2020. [Continue reading…]