From Bush vs. Gore to ‘Stop the Steal’: Kenneth Chesebro’s long, strange journey | ET REALITY


In January 2001, Kenneth Chesebro was a mild-mannered Harvard lawyer working hard for Al Gore during the recount battle of the 2000 presidential election. Two decades later, on January 6, 2021, he joined the mob in front of the Capitol, reborn as a MAGA hat-wearing kingpin.

On Friday, Chesebro’s journey took another turn, when he pleaded guilty to a criminal racketeering charge in Fulton County, Georgia, and agreed to testify against former President Donald J. Trump and other co-defendants, including Rudolph W. Giuliani and several other top Trump advisers.

Chesebro, 62, a workaholic who brought platinum credentials to Trump’s chaotic legal team, is the third defendant to plead guilty for his role in what prosecutors say was a criminal conspiracy to create fraudulent voter lists. pro-Trump in six states. , including Georgia, which Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won.

Mr. Chesebro’s trial, which was scheduled to begin on Monday, will no longer continue. The liberal lawyers of his former life hoped he would provide clues to an enduring mystery: What happened to “The Cheese”?

“I still don’t see what should have been a warning sign,” Laurence H. Tribe, the Harvard constitutional law scholar who mentored Chesebro, said in an interview. “Was there anything he could or should have done?”

Some former colleagues say Chesebro’s U-turn came after a lucrative Bitcoin investment in 2014 and a subsequent lavish, itinerant lifestyle. Others, like Tribe, see Chesebro as a “moral chameleon” and his story about the seduction of power is an old one.

“I wanted to be close to the action,” said Tribe, one of 60 lawyers and academics who signed an ethics complaint in New York that could result in Chesebro’s disbarment. At Harvard, Chesebro assisted Tribe in many cases, including Bush v. Gore, which Tribe, as Gore’s chief legal counsel, argued before the Supreme Court.

“I was representing a vice president who could become president,” Tribe said. Mr. Chesebro, he continued, “saw that I had access to power. “When the world changed and Donald Trump became president, I stopped hearing from him.”

Chesebro responded that in his work for Trump, he was providing him with the enthusiastic legal defense that all clients deserve when he proposed a plan that he acknowledged at the time “could appear treasonous.”

“It is the duty of any attorney to spare no effort in examining the legal options that exist in a particular situation,” Mr. Chesebro said in a interview with Talking Points Memo, before being accused. Beyond that interview, he has said very little, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in most of a statement he made before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks.

Emails released in the run-up to Chesebro’s trial suggest it wasn’t just the law that drove him. In emails to Trump’s other lawyers fighting to overturn the 2020 results, Chesebro estimated the odds of the Supreme Court intervening at 1 percent. Still, he added, appealing to the high court has “possible political value.”

After his guilty plea Friday, Chesebro’s attorney, Scott R. Grubman, said in an email that “Mr. Chesebro is glad to be able to move on with his life and avoid spending a single minute in jail.” Grubman noted that Chesebro had pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, rather than the racketeering charge.

Chesebro grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, in the heart of the state. Her father, Donald Chesebro, was a high school music teacher, clarinetist and local band director inducted into the Polka Hall of Fame.

Chesebro graduated from Northwestern University and then entered Harvard Law School, where, in a nod to his roots in America’s dairy lands, his classmates nicknamed him “The Cheese.” (His name is actually pronounced CHEZ-bro.)

His classmates remember him as intelligent and intelligent among the students who gathered around Mr. Tribe. They describe him as socially awkward: “Hi, I’m Ken,” he would say on phone calls, and in trying to ingratiate himself with faculty members, they ended up annoying them by staying too long at their desks.

But he worked hard, spending all nights writing reports, especially if one was going to have Mr. Tribe’s name on it.

Mr. Chesebro graduated from law school in 1986 and landed a coveted job: clerking in Washington for U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, who presided over some of the most important political cases from the 1970s and 1980s.

Judge Gesell, who died in 1993, ruled against the Nixon administration’s attempt to prevent The Washington Post and The New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers on U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He presided over several Watergate trials and ruled that recordings from President Richard M. Nixon’s office were in the public domain because they had already been played in court, and that Nixon’s firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox was illegal.

The energetic judge prided himself on being able to move quickly through his caseload with the help of a single clerk, who from 1986 to 1987 was Mr. Chesebro.

Early one morning, the judge entered his office and found Mr. Chesebro asleep on a couch. A former clerk recalled that Mr. Chesebro confessed that, without telling the judge, he had been living at the courthouse. The judge was generous with his staff, the former clerk said, and if Chesebro had told him he needed housing, he probably would have helped him, the clerk said.

After his clerkship, Mr. Chesebro did not join the government or a large plaintiffs firm, as many of Gesell’s protégés did, but instead returned to Cambridge and set up his own business. For the next two decades he worked occasionally for Tribe, writing reports for his mentor.

In 1994 he married Emily Stevens, a doctor. Around the same time he began writing appellate briefs for a series of cases brought by smokers against major American tobacco companies. He registered to practice in several states and toured the country.

Holly Hostrup, a California attorney who worked with Chesebro on appellate briefs defending multimillion-dollar verdicts against Philip Morris, remembered him as an excellent lawyer. “Obviously he was brilliant, he had good arguments, good experience, he had been hired for important cases and he won important cases,” she said. Ms. Hostrup belongs to an email list of lawyers and said that Mr. Chesebro had been intervening in tobacco cases as recently as this year.

After Mr. Chesebro’s indictment, Ms. Hostrup asked an expert in judicial psychology to help her understand: “How does a person who worked on all those plaintiff-side cases become a MAGA Republican?” “

“In my opinion,” he said, “it was like turning around and going to work for Philip Morris.”

Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University and president of its Public Health Advocacy Institute, devised the legal strategy to sue the tobacco giants. “Ken was a guy with really interesting ideas and he was proud of them,” he recalled.

“I can see the seduction,” he added, referring to Trump World’s acceptance of Chesebro. “I’m a Democrat, and if I had some bright ideas that Biden’s advisers were taking seriously, that would be a big deal, kind of an opportunity.

“But of course I’m not going to throw my body on the tracks saying this is a wonderful human being and whatever he was doing had to be for a good reason.”

During the battle over the recount of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, Mr. Chesebro was part of the investigative team that assisted Mr. Tribe and other legal luminaries representing Mr. Gore. After Gore lost, Tribe and Chesebro worked together on a few more major lawsuits, and then largely went their separate ways.

But they stayed in touch. Chesebro’s investment in Bitcoin in 2014 netted him “several million dollars,” he wrote in an email to Tribe that was cited in a recent article in Air mail. His marriage ended and Chesebro acquired expensive homes in Boston and Manhattan, and a villa in Puerto Rico.

Shortly after Chesebro’s big payday, his name began appearing in legal briefs filed by far-right conservatives, including John Eastman and a former Wisconsin judge, James Troupis. The three were described as complicit in the federal indictment for the 2020 election plan. He made large campaign donations to far-right Republicans, reaching the maximum to Trump in 2020.

Troupis asked Chesebro for help several days after the election. According to the Georgia indictment, Chesebro drafted a series of incriminating memos.

In emails exposing the fake electors’ scheme, Chesebro misinterpreted Tribe’s work on Bush v. Gore, repeatedly citing him to support his theories. Mr. Tribe called him. in an article last year titled “Anatomy of a Fraud.”

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