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Takeaways from the Wisconsin 2020 fake electors lawsuit settlement

Mar 4, 2024, 12:54 PM

FILE - Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro is sworn in during a plea deal hearing, Oct. 20, 2023, at the Fulton...

FILE - Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro is sworn in during a plea deal hearing, Oct. 20, 2023, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. A lawsuit settlement offers new details about how two attorneys for former President Donald Trump orchestrated a plan for fake electors to file paperwork falsely saying the Republican won Wisconsin in a strategy to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory there and in other swing states. The agreement settles a civil lawsuit filed by Democrats against the attorneys and the fake electors. (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP, File)

More than 1,400 pages of emails, text messages and other documents released Monday reveal details of a strategy by Republican operatives tied to then-President Donald Trump to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Wisconsin. The documents — settling a civil lawsuit filed against two attorneys and 10 Wisconsin Republicans who posed as fake electors — also allow a deeper look into how the strategy played out in other battleground states.

WH0’S BEHIND THE LAWSUIT?

Two Wisconsin Democratic electors and a voter filed the lawsuit in 2022 alleging a conspiracy by Trump and his allies to overturn his loss in the presidential race in the state.

It named attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Jim Troupis, along with 10 Republicans who signed documents falsely stating they were electors. The electors settled in December. Chesebro and Troupis settled by agreeing to turn over the documents.

Chesebro worked closely with the Trump campaign. Troupis, a former judge, served as Trump’s attorney in Wisconsin.

WHAT DOES THE SETTLEMENT MEAN?

The settlement lays bare the orchestrated plan to keep Trump in office by creating paperwork and pulling together false slates of Republican electors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and belatedly New Mexico.

The trove of documents shows the plot’s origins in Wisconsin — which federal prosecutors have also noted — and how it was replicated with coordination between the attorneys and the Trump campaign.

“The goals of the lawsuit were about transparence, accountability and deterrence,” said attorney Jeffrey Mandell, who helped negotiate the settlement for the plaintiffs.

Chesebro and Troupis didn’t admit any wrongdoing or liability, but they have promised never to participate in similar efforts. Troupis must also pay an undisclosed amount.

Text messages between the two in the final months of 2020 show how they looked for ways to draft false certificates for the fake electors, among other things.

There are no communications directly from Trump, but there are glimpses into an Oval Office meeting and White House communications.

When Chesebro shares a memo on strategies, Troupis responds with: “I have sent it to the White House this afternoon. The real decision makers.”

WHO ARE ELECTORS?

Electors are appointed by state parties to represent voters.

The job is often given to current and former party officials, state lawmakers and party activists. The winner of the state’s popular vote typically determines which party’s electors are sent to the Electoral College, which convenes after the election to certify the winner. Electors gather in their respective state capitols in December to certify their statewide popular vote winner.

Trump lost Wisconsin by fewer than 21,000 votes, but as part of the scheme, the electors claimed he had won the state.

Monday’s document release includes a 10-minute video shot by Chesebro of the fake Wisconsin electors filling out ballots for Trump, cheering and taking photos.

Troupis said Monday in a statement that the alternative ballots were part of a “reasonable course of action” as the election results were appealable. His attorney Matthew Fernholz dismissed the case as “a politically driven civil lawsuit.”

WHERE DO THINGS STAND OUTSIDE WISCONSIN?

The fake electors in Wisconsin have — so far — gotten off easier than their counterparts in some other battleground states where fake certificates were sent to Congress falsely declaring Trump the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

In Michigan, 16 people initially were charged with forgery and other crimes. Six Republicans in Nevada, including the state’s GOP party chair and Republican National committeeman, were indicted in December on felony charges.

Meanwhile, 18 people — including Trump and several of his top lawyers — were charged last summer in Georgia. Three of those charged are accused of being fake electors. Several lawyers, including Chesebro, agreed to plea deals.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, said in January that he wouldn’t prosecute. Charges also haven’t been filed in Pennsylvania or Arizona.

WHAT DO THE CASES HAVE IN COMMON?

The documents offer a glimpse into the strategy’s origins in Wisconsin and the major role that Troupis played. But across the other cases, Chesebro remains in the spotlight.

The indictment in Georgia alleged he coordinated and executed the plan to have Georgia Republicans sign a certificate declaring falsely that Trump won the state and declaring themselves “duly elected and qualified” electors.

He pleaded guilty to a felony in October in the Georgia case.

Chesebro also cooperated with authorities in Nevada, testifying before a grand jury in November. He also could be called to testify as a defense witness in Michigan.

Documents in Monday’s settlement show how Chesebro was in direct communications with top Trump campaign officials for an assessment of how states were doing with the plan.

“Wisconsin appears to be the most organized state so far,” concludes a Dec. 11, 2020, email from Trump campaign associate general counsel Joshua Findlay to Chesebro and others. The same email calls Pennsylvania “the most challenging” and says Michigan’s response was “moderate, as some electors do not see the point in holding a vote.”

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Takeaways from the Wisconsin 2020 fake electors lawsuit settlement