Leaked testimony from Kenneth Chesebro explains Trump’s false electors plot

CNN has obtained audio of attorney Kenneth Chesebro talking with Michigan state prosecutors about Donald Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In that recording, Chesebro explains how what he now calls “a photo-op … gone south” spun out the false electors scheme and reenergized Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election. All with a big assist from an attorney named … Kenneth Chesebro.

According to Chesebro’s testimony, a meeting took place at the White House on Dec. 16, 2020, in which several attorneys who had worked for Trump’s campaign at the state level came in to tell him the jig was up. “We had been told before the meeting not to say anything that would make [Trump] feel better about his chances than before the meeting had started,” Chesebro said. 

Only Chesebro didn’t follow that advice. Other attorneys delivered bad news to Trump, including Chesebro’s friend and fellow attorney Jim Troupis, who reportedly told Trump things were “over” in Wisconsin. But when it was Chesebro’s turn to speak, he delivered a different message.

“I ended up explaining that Arizona was still hypothetically possible because the alternate electors had voted,” said the former Trump attorney. “And I explained the whole logic. I basically summarized a lot of the Nov. 18 memo, and I explained that Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsberg and Professor Lawrence Tribe had both written that Jan. 6 was the real deadline. So, because the alternate electors had voted, we had more time to win litigation.”

It’s not often someone goes on record to explain how their actions helped give rise to an insurgency, but that’s exactly what Chesebro seemed to describe.

The statement about Arizona’s alternate electors was like a bomb tossed into the meeting. According to CNN, Chesebro’s “optimistic comments” gave Trump renewed hope that his attempts to overturn the election were not finished. Former Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, who was also present, was reportedly “concerned.”

“Right after the meeting,” Chesebro says in the recordings, “Troupis said that Reince Priebus was extremely concerned with what I told the president about Arizona, and about the real deadline being Jan. 6. And he was going to do damage control. Reince was going to follow up and was trying to mitigate whatever optimism I guess I created.” Trump apparently paid no more attention to Priebus at that meeting than when he served as Trump’s first chief of staff. But it certainly would be interesting to interview Priebus about his thoughts on the fateful Dec. 16 confab.

That Chesebro was eager to talk about false electors isn’t a surprise. He authored a sweeping memo on Dec. 6, 2020, in which he described the majority of the scheme. Right up until Jan. 6, Chesebro was shoving the scheme along at every step, emailing party chairs, working with Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, and pulling out all the stops to create an alternative reality in which neither the Constitution nor the Electoral Count Act really matters.

According to the racketeering indictment filed in Fulton County, Georgia, Chesebro helped coordinate the selection of false electors in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. That included not just sending letters and emails to Trump campaign staffers and Republican Party officials, but even coming up with the wording on the fake certificates that false electors would sign. In the case of Arizona, Georgia, and New Mexico, Chesebro appears to have created the fake certificates himself.

Chesebro went on to craft a memo for Giuliani and another for John Eastman explaining “multiple strategies for disrupting and delaying the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.” In the final draft of one of these delay-and-disrupt memos, Chesebro declared that any of his strategies would be “preferable to allowing the Electoral Count Act to operate by its terms.”

That memo goes on to speculate about what might happen after Republicans overturned the election on Jan. 6 and handed the White House back to Trump. The situation, Chesebro says, would be “messy” and the Supreme Court might try to intrude, but none of that mattered. What mattered was making sure Joe Biden and Kamala Harris never took office.

In short, no one is in this thing deeper than Chesebro. No one did more to keep the conspiracy going, even when others on Trump’s team were ready to throw in the towel. And no one, but no one, should be happier about prosecuting attorneys being willing to strike a deal than Kenneth John Chesebro.

Chesebro already pleaded guilty in the Georgia case to a single felony charge of attempting to file false documents. For this, he got five years probation, paid a $5,000 fine, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. That’s not a bad deal for someone who was facing seven felony counts and whose name appeared in 35 acts allegedly supporting the criminal conspiracy at the heart of the racketeering indictment.

Chesebro is clearly cooperating with investigators in Wisconsin, as well as Arizona and Nevada, though the full extent of any deal he made in those states is not known. CNN has also identified Chesebro as an unindicted co-conspirator in Trump’s federal trial for election interference, which suggests he may also be cooperating with special counsel Jack Smith.

On the one hand, this is all great because no one knows more about the scheme to disrupt the Jan. 6 vote count than Chesebro. However, no one did more to create and encourage that scheme. If Chesebro’s testimony helps convict Trump, then it was worth it. If there’s any other result, it was not.

Anyway, Chesebro seems willing to spill the beans about anything in exchange for staying outside of a prison cell. In the recording of his meeting with Michigan prosecutors, he said, “There was a subsequent email a week later, where Troupis said that it’s extremely important that no one ever learn what happened in the meeting. And I don’t actually know, but it was probably related to what I told the president about the real deadline and about Arizona. So there was something very sensitive about what happened in the meeting that there was concern about, that had to be kept quiet.”

Four indictments later, we know what the concern was about.

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