From Bush v. Gore to ‘Cease the Steal’: Kenneth Chesebro’s Lengthy, Unusual Journey

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In January 2001, Kenneth Chesebro was a mild-mannered Harvard lawyer toiling for Al Gore throughout the 2000 presidential election recount battle. 20 years later, on Jan. 6, 2021, he joined the mob outdoors the Capitol, reborn as a MAGA-hatted kingpin.

On Friday, Mr. Chesebro’s journey took one other flip, when he pleaded responsible in a legal racketeering indictment in Fulton County, Ga., and agreed to testify in opposition to former President Donald J. Trump and different co-defendants, together with Rudolph W. Giuliani and a number of other different prime Trump aides.

Mr. Chesebro, 62, a workaholic who introduced platinum credentials to Mr. Trump’s shambolic authorized workforce, is the third defendant to plead responsible for his function in what prosecutors say was a legal conspiracy to create fraudulent slates of pro-Trump electors in six states, together with Georgia, that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had received.

Mr. Chesebro’s trial, which had been scheduled to start Monday, will now not go ahead. Liberal legal professionals from his former life had hoped it will present clues to an everlasting thriller: What occurred to “The Cheese?’’

“I nonetheless don’t see what ought to have been a warning signal,” Laurence H. Tribe, the Harvard constitutional regulation scholar who was Mr. Chesebro’s mentor, mentioned in an interview. “Was there something I may or ought to have completed?”

Some former colleagues say Mr. Chesebro’s 180-degree flip got here after a profitable 2014 funding in Bitcoin and a subsequent luxurious, itinerant life-style. Others, like Mr. Tribe, see Mr. Chesebro as a “ethical chameleon” and his story an outdated one concerning the seduction of energy.

“He needed to be near the motion,” mentioned Mr. Tribe, who’s amongst 60 legal professionals and students who signed an ethics grievance in New York that might end in Mr. Chesebro’s disbarment. At Harvard, Mr. Chesebro assisted Mr. Tribe on many instances, together with Bush v. Gore, which Mr. Tribe, as Mr. Gore’s chief authorized counsel, argued earlier than the Supreme Court docket.

“I used to be representing a vp who may change into president,” Mr. Tribe mentioned. Mr. Chesebro, he continued, “noticed me as getting access to energy. When the world turned and Donald Trump grew to become president, I finished listening to from him.”

Mr. Chesebro has responded that in his work for Mr. Trump, he was offering him with the zealous authorized advocacy that every one shoppers deserve when he proposed a scheme that he acknowledged on the time “may seem treasonous.”

“It’s the responsibility of any legal professional to go away no stone unturned in analyzing the authorized choices that exist in a selected state of affairs,” Mr. Chesebro mentioned in an interview with Talking Points Memo, earlier than he was indicted. Past that interview, he has mentioned little or no, citing his Fifth Modification rights in opposition to self-incrimination for many of a deposition he gave to the Home committee investigating the Jan. 6 assaults.

Emails launched within the run as much as Mr. Chesebro’s trial counsel it was not simply the regulation that drove him. In emails to the opposite Trump legal professionals preventing to overturn the 2020 outcomes, Mr. Chesebro estimated the chances of the Supreme Court docket stepping in at 1 %. Nonetheless, he added, interesting to the excessive courtroom has “attainable political worth.”

After his responsible plea on Friday, Mr. Chesebro’s lawyer, Scott R. Grubman, mentioned in an e mail that “Mr. Chesebro is glad to have the ability to transfer on along with his life and keep away from spending even a minute in jail.” Mr. Grubman famous that Mr. Chesebro had pleaded responsible to at least one depend of conspiracy, fairly than the racketeering cost.

Mr. Chesebro grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, within the coronary heart of the state. His father, Donald Chesebro, was a highschool music instructor, clarinetist and native bandleader inducted into the Polka Corridor of Fame.

Mr. Chesebro graduated from Northwestern College and went on to Harvard Regulation Faculty, the place in a nod to his roots in America’s dairyland classmates dubbed him “The Cheese.” (His title is definitely pronounced CHEZ-bro.)

His classmates keep in mind him as clever and intelligent among the many college students who clustered round Mr. Tribe. They describe him as socially awkward — “Hello, it’s um, Ken,” he would say on cellphone calls — and in attempting to ingratiate himself with school workers members ended up pestering them by hanging round a little bit too lengthy at their desks.

However he labored laborious, pulling all-nighters in writing briefs, particularly if one was going to have Mr. Tribe’s title on it.

Mr. Chesebro graduated from regulation college in 1986 and secured a coveted job, clerking in Washington for U.S. District Court docket Decide Gerhard A. Gesell, who presided over some of the most pivotal political cases of the Seventies and Eighties.

Decide Gesell, who died in 1993, dominated in opposition to the Nixon administration’s effort to cease The Washington Publish and The New York Occasions from publishing the Pentagon Papers about America’s involvement in Vietnam. He presided over a number of Watergate trials, ruling that President Richard M. Nixon’s workplace tape recordings have been within the public area as a result of that they had already been performed in courtroom, and that Nixon’s firing of Watergate particular prosecutor Archibald Cox was unlawful.

The energetic decide prided himself on transferring swiftly by way of his caseload with the assistance of a single clerk, who from 1986 to 1987 was Mr. Chesebro.

Early one morning the decide entered his chambers to search out Mr. Chesebro asleep on a settee. A former clerk recalled that Mr. Chesebro confessed to him that with out telling the decide, he had been residing within the courthouse. The decide was beneficiant along with his staffers, the previous clerk mentioned, and had Mr. Chesebro instructed him he wanted housing, he probably would have helped, the clerk mentioned.

After his clerkship Mr. Chesebro didn’t be part of the federal government or a giant plaintiffs’ agency, as many Gesell protégés did, however moved again to Cambridge and frolicked his personal shingle. For the following 20 years he did occasional work for Mr. Tribe, writing briefs for his mentor.

In 1994 he married Emily Stevens, a doctor. Across the similar time he started writing appellate briefs for a slew of instances introduced by people who smoke in opposition to the most important American tobacco firms. He registered to apply in a number of states, and crisscrossed the nation.

Holly Hostrup, a California lawyer who labored with Mr. Chesebro on appellate briefs defending multibillion-dollar verdicts in opposition to Philip Morris, recalled him as a superb lawyer. “He was clearly shiny and had good arguments and had good expertise and had been employed onto huge instances and received huge instances,” she mentioned. Ms. Hostrup belongs to a legal professionals’ e mail listing and mentioned that Mr. Chesebro had been weighing in on tobacco instances as just lately as this yr.

After Mr. Chesebro’s indictment Ms. Hostrup requested an professional in courtroom psychology to assist her perceive: “How does an individual who labored on all these instances on the plaintiffs’ aspect change into a MAGA Republican?”

“To my thoughts,’’ she mentioned, “it was like turning round and going to work for Philip Morris.”

Richard Daynard, a Northeastern College regulation professor and president of its Public Well being Advocacy Institute, devised the authorized technique for suing the tobacco giants. “Ken was a man with actually fascinating concepts, and pleased with them,” he recalled.

“I can see the seduction,” he added, talking of Mr. Chesebro’s embrace by Trump World. “I’m a Democrat, and if I had some shiny concepts Biden’s advisers have been taking severely, that’s a giant deal, a sort of alternative.

“However after all I’m not about to throw my physique over the tracks by saying it is a great human being and no matter he was doing needed to be for good purpose.”

In the course of the 2000 presidential election recount battle in Florida, Mr. Chesebro served on the analysis workforce aiding Mr. Tribe and different authorized luminaries representing Mr. Gore. After Mr. Gore misplaced, Mr. Tribe and Mr. Chesebro labored collectively on just a few extra huge lawsuits, then largely went separate methods.

However they stayed in contact. Mr. Chesebro’s 2014 funding in Bitcoin netted him “a number of million {dollars},” he wrote in an e mail to Mr. Tribe that was quoted in a current article in Air Mail. His marriage ended, and Mr. Chesebro acquired costly houses in Boston and Manhattan, and a villa in Puerto Rico.

Quickly after Mr. Chesebro’s huge payday, his title started showing on authorized briefs filed by far-right conservatives, together with John Eastman and a former Wisconsin decide, James Troupis. All three have been described as co-conspirators within the federal indictment for the 2020 election scheme. He made hefty marketing campaign donations to far-right Republicans, maxing out to Mr. Trump in 2020.

Mr. Troupis appealed to Mr. Chesebro for assist a number of days after the election. In keeping with the Georgia indictment, Mr. Chesebro drafted a flurry of incriminating memos.

In emails laying out the false electors plan, Mr. Chesebro misinterpreted Mr. Tribe’s work on Bush v. Gore, repeatedly citing it to help his theories. Mr. Tribe known as him out in an article last year titled “Anatomy of a Fraud.”