Wisconsin attorney for Trump campaign one of first known to learn of fake elector strategy, memo shows

Molly Beck
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Trump campaign attorney James Troupis speaks during a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

MADISON – A Wisconsin attorney hired to litigate former President Donald Trump's 2020 loss in the state was one of the first to learn of a scheme to put in place Republican electors in states Trump was trying to overturn election results.  

Jim Troupis, a former Dane County Circuit Court judge hired by Trump's campaign to oversee recounts, received a memo on Nov. 18, 2020, outlining the strategy, according to the New York Times.  The memo arrived the same day Troupis filed paperwork on behalf of the Trump campaign to begin ballot recounts in the liberal-leaning and populous Dane and Milwaukee counties. 

The memo underscores the significance of Jan. 6, 2021, to the Trump campaign's efforts to overturn a loss confirmed by courts and recounts — a date thousands converged on the U.S. Capitol to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's victory, resulting in violence and death. 

The memo to Troupis came from Boston-area attorney Kenneth Chesebro with the subject line "The Real Deadline for Settling a State’s Electoral Vote."

It outlined Chesebro's legal analysis backing up his suggestion during a conference call with Troupis that "in any judicial review of the canvassing/recounting in Wisconsin, we should emphasize that the presidential election timetable affords ample time for judicial proceedings, even if initial errors in the recount require a remand for further recounting."

Chesebro told Troupis that Jan. 6, 2021, should be considered the real deadline to resolve Wisconsin's presidential contest — not Dec. 8, 2020, a so-called "safe harbor" deadline under the Electoral Count Act that Wisconsin missed, or Dec. 14, 2020, when electors met in the Wisconsin State Capitol to confirm President Joe Biden's victory. 

"Assuming the electors pledged to Trump and Pence end up meeting at the Wisconsin Capitol on December 14 to cast their votes, and then send their votes to the President of the Senate in time to be opened on January 6, a court decision (or, perhaps, a state legislative determination) rendered after December 14 in favor of the Trump-Pence slate of electors should be considered timely," Chesebro wrote to Troupis. 

"On this view, the only real deadline during the next month is the December 14 deadline to cast electoral votes — so that any state judicial proceedings which extend past that date, working toward resolution of who has won Wisconsin’s electoral votes, are entirely compatible with federal law provided that they are completed by January 6."

On Dec. 14, 2020, Wisconsin's members of the Electoral College gathered in the state Capitol to deliver the state's 10 electoral votes to Biden. At the same time, in another part of the Capitol, a group of Republicans purported to do the same thing for Trump.

They signed official-looking documents stating Trump had won even though the state Supreme Court had ruled just an hour earlier that Biden was the victor. They sent the material to the U.S. Senate, the National Archives, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and a federal judge.

The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 breaching of the U.S. Capitol has subpoenaed former Republican Party of Wisconsin chairman Andrew Hitt and Eighth Congressional District Republican Party chairwoman Kelly Ruh, who acted as electors, as part of their probe. 

Wisconsin Republican Party's chairman, Andrew Hitt.

Troupis, Hitt and Ruh did not respond to messages from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Hitt, an Appleton attorney who stepped down as chairman of the GOP last year, said in a statement last week that he would comply with the subpoena. He said he had followed legal advice in meeting as an elector, but did not say last week who offered that advice.

Ruh is a De Pere council member seeking reelection.

At the time they filed the paperwork, Wisconsin Republicans said they wanted to preserve their chances of claiming the presidency in case Trump and his allies won long-shot appeals to a string of lawsuits challenging the election results. Those legal efforts proved fruitless as courts across the country threw out dozens of cases.

Kelly Ruh

In the Nov. 18, 2020, memo, Chesebro assured Troupis the move was justified.

"It may seem odd that the electors pledged to Trump and Pence might meet and cast their votes on December 14 even if, at that juncture, the Trump-Pence ticket is behind in the vote count, and no certificate of election has been issued in favor of Trump and Pence," he wrote. "However, a fair reading of the federal statutes suggests that this is a reasonable course of action."

The memo to Troupis was used by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and others to develop a strategy to "exploit ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act," according to the Times' reporting. 

Then-Gov. Scott Walker appointed Troupis to the bench in liberal Dane County in 2015. Troupis gave up his seat the next year, before his term was up. He hoped at the time to have Walker appoint him to the state Supreme Court.

During the recounts of Dane and Milwaukee counties, Troupis sought to throw out tens of thousands of absentee ballots that were cast in person — an argument that included tossing his own ballot, and his wife's. 

Troupis and his wife voted early using the state's in-person absentee option — one of a group of voters whose ballots the Trump campaign unsuccessfully asked election officials to deem illegal.

In all, the Trump campaign sought to eliminate all in-person early votes; all mailed-in absentee ballots if written applications for them could not be tracked down; all votes submitted by those who say they are indefinitely confined; and all absentee ballots where clerks wrote in the addresses of witnesses. None of their requests were granted. 

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin have asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the 10 Republicans who signed on as Trump electors. Lawyers for a group that filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission over the false electors have told the commission it will soon take the matter to court if the commission, which has been in possession of the complaint for nearly a year, does not act soon.

Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report. 

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.