A group of attorneys brought an ethics complaint this week against Ken Chesebro, the 2020 Trump campaign attorney who sought to help the former President overturn the results of the election.
The complaint, filed by Lawyers Defending American Democracy with the Attorney Grievance Committee of the New York state Supreme Court, describes Chesebro as a “mastermind” behind elements of Trump’s effort to cling onto power and to sow the myth that the election was fraudulent.
Chesebro, who began working with Trump attorney John Eastman shortly after the election, authored a series of memos in November and December 2020 which advocated for the Trump campaign to create false slates of electors in states that Biden won. The theory went that if the courts — or state legislatures — held the election results to be fraudulent, the fake Trump electors could swoop in and take the place of the Biden electors just in time for Congress to certify Trump as the victor on January 6, 2021.
The complaint describes this as an example of “fraudulent and deceitful conduct” — a violation of the attorney rules of professional conduct in New York state.
“His actions were not those of a member of an honorable profession who sought for a client or a cause an advantageous result consistent with what the law permitted,” the complaint reads. “Instead, his efforts were those of a schemer bent on helping a client or cause retain power through whatever manipulation of laws, customs and norms reaching that goal required.”
Chesebro did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment on the ethics complaint.
In a wide-ranging interview with TPM in June, Chesebro defended his actions as those that any other lawyer would take, and contended that the arguments he put forth on behalf of the Trump campaign constituted legitimate advocacy under the law.
An attorney for Chesebro told the New York Times that Chesebro was counseling Trump’s team on “keeping its options open” as a “contingency” in case the courts found that the election had, in fact, been fake.
The complaint alleges that Chesebro promoted a “false legal theory” that he knew “had no basis in the law,” and that he “leveraged” his status as an attorney in service of an “attempted coup.”
“Although Mr. Chesebro did not succeed in his ultimate objective, the lies that he and his confreres perpetrated have undermined public faith in our elections and caused incalculable damage to our democratic values and institutions,” the complaint reads.
It was an odd trajectory that landed Chesebro, in the complaint’s phrasing, in a role as a “participant, not mere legal advisor” in the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the election.
A protege of well-known liberal appellate lawyer Lawrence Tribe, Chesebro spent the early part of his career working with Tribe as a research assistant. Tribe characterized Chesebro to TPM earlier this year as a legal nihilist who would come up with strange legal theories in pursuit of victory.
“I doubt that he cared whether the arguments were sound or not as long as that goal could be met of helping Trump to win the election,” Tribe said.
Tribe signed the Lawyers Defending American Democracy complaint, which is now pending before the attorney grievance committee. It is the second to be filed against Chesebro for his involvement in the 2020 election.