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Newly Released Messages Detail Roots of the ‘Fake Electors’ Scheme

Just five days after Election Day in 2020, a conservative lawyer named Kenneth Chesebro emailed a former judge who was working for the Trump campaign in Wisconsin, James R. Troupis, pitching an idea for how to overturn the results.

Through litigation, Mr. Chesebro said, the Trump campaign could allege “various systemic abuses” and, with court proceedings pending, encourage legislatures to appoint “alternative” pro-Trump electors that could be certified instead of the Biden electors chosen by the voters.

“At minimum, with such a cloud of confusion, no votes from WI (and perhaps also MI and PA) should be counted, perhaps enough to throw the election to the House,” Mr. Chesebro wrote to Mr. Troupis, referring to the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Troupis quickly brought Mr. Chesebro into the Trump legal team, directed him to lay out the plans in a series of memos now central to the indictment of Donald J. Trump and a month later — with the help of Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff — secured a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House.

The email is the earliest known evidence of Mr. Chesebro’s involvement in what would become known as the false elector plot. It was released Monday along with a trove of more than 1,400 pages of text messages and emails belonging to Mr. Troupis and Mr. Chesebro as they settled a lawsuit against them filed in Wisconsin.

Taken together, the documents show in new detail how the Trump campaign’s litigation strategy was not designed to win in court as much as it was designed to give cover for their political efforts. And they underscore the central role that Mr. Troupis — previously a little-known figure in the effort to overturn the election — played in furthering the plans.

The messages also detail how Mr. Chesebro worked to get the false-electors documents into the hands of members of Congress, and how Mr. Chesebro — who has since pleaded guilty in Georgia to a felony conspiracy charge related to the scheme — celebrated the crowd that was gathering in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, before a violent mob stormed the Capitol.

“Enjoy the history you have made possible today,” Mr. Troupis wrote in a text message to Mr. Chesebro at 11:04 a.m. that day.

The new details come from the settlement of a lawsuit filed by the progressive law firm Law Forward and Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection against Mr. Chesebro, Mr. Troupis and the so-called fake electors in Wisconsin.

The suit was filed on behalf of legitimate Wisconsin presidential electors and voters.

The purported electors have already settled their portion of the suit, admitting that President Biden won the 2020 election.

Mr. Troupis and Mr. Chesebro agreed not to engage in similar work in the future, including not participating in a scheme to advance slates of false electors.

The settlement also included a payment to the plaintiffs of an undisclosed amount.

“As these documents show, the fraudulent electors plot originated in Wisconsin, with Trump campaign attorney James Troupis and legal adviser Ken Chesebro concocting the scheme that ultimately provided the false narrative used by the rioters to justify the attack on the Capitol,” said Mary McCord, the director of Georgetown’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

In a statement, Mr. Troupis said he entered into the settlement to “avoid endless litigation, and nothing in today’s settlement constitutes an admission of fault, nor should it.”

“It is the duty of lawyers to vigorously represent their clients, regardless of their popularity, within the bounds of the law,” he said. “Our representation was vigorous and ethically appropriate.”

Mr. Chesebro’s memos were central to the federal indictment of Mr. Trump on charges of seeking to overturn the 2020 election. They are featured as evidence of how the Trump campaign’s plans shifted from legal challenges to what prosecutors describe as a criminal plot to engineer “a fake controversy that would derail the proper certification of Biden as president-elect.”

The memos also became the basis for a strategy put forward by the conservative lawyer John Eastman and Mr. Trump that a federal judge referred to as a “coup in search of a legal theory.”

In a Nov. 19, 2020, email to Mr. Troupis, Mr. Chesebro wrote that the Trump lawyers should “pursue a shot at having two bites at the apple — ligate, hoping to ultimately win by January 6, but also use delay in litigation to try to win in the state legislature on December 8.”

Several of the documents refer to a Dec. 15, 2020, meeting of Mr. Troupis and Mr. Chesebro with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office.

“Pretty clear national people realize this wouldn’t be happening if you and reince and others hadn’t pushed it!” Mr. Chesebro wrote to Mr. Troupis two days before the White House visit.

They were told to keep the meeting secret and not bring anything for Mr. Trump to sign, the messages show.

“Reince was very explicit in his admonition that nothing about our meeting with the President can be shared with anyone,” Mr. Troupis wrote to Mr. Chesebro after.

Mr. Chesebro gave his account of the meeting to state prosecutors in Michigan investigating the fake electors plot. He said Mr. Priebus had told the men not to get Mr. Trump’s hopes up about his chances for victory, but Mr. Chesebro acknowledged he had not listened to that advice.

“We had until Jan. 6 to win,” Mr. Chesebro recalled of what he told Mr. Trump in the meeting, according to audio obtained by CNN, adding: “That got me in real trouble afterwards.”

Mr. Chesebro did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Preibus declined to comment. A person familiar with his actions said that he had recommended Mr. Troupis as a lawyer in Wisconsin, his home state, to the Trump campaign, but was not involved in the day-to-day of the legal efforts.

The person said that he had merely arranged a “photo op” for the men at Mr. Troupis’s request and had not met Mr. Chesebro or known who he was until that day. The person offered a similar account of the meeting as Mr. Chesebro, who said Mr. Preibus did not want them encouraging the president to fight the election results.

Even so, after the meeting, both Mr. Troupis and Mr. Chesebro appeared to feel they had some special knowledge of Mr. Trump’s plans.

After Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that he would be holding a rally in Washington on Jan. 6 — “Be there, will be wild!” he urged his followers in a message that served as a crucial call to action for far-right groups — Mr. Chesebro wrote to Mr. Troupis: “Wow. Based on 3 days ago, I think we have unique understanding of this.”

Although the plans originated in Wisconsin, the messages show the men saw Georgia as key to furthering their goals.

“If Georgia is pending before the Supreme Court on January 6, a fairly boss move would be for Pence, when he gets to Georgia, to simply decline to open any of the Georgia envelopes,” Mr. Chesebro wrote on Dec. 26, 2020. He was referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s ceremonial role in the certification by Congress of the Electoral College results.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Mr. Chesebro said he had worked with Michael Roman, the director of the Trump campaign’s Election Day operations, and given documents for the false slates of electors a day earlier to an aide to Representative Mike Kelly, Republican of Pennsylvania. That aide took them to the Senate parliamentarian, he said.

“Excellent,” Mr. Troupis replied. “Tomorrow let’s talk about SCOTUS strategy going forward. Enjoy the history you have made possible today.”

Mr. Chesebro later sent a photo of himself with the crowd at 12:26 p.m. on Jan. 6.

Mr. Troupis responded with an emoji of hands clapping.

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