Cleta Mitchell was a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Foley & Lardner. She has been called "one of the GOP's top election lawyers over the last quarter of a century" and "the conservative movement's anti-gay eminence grise." Mitchell serves of the board of many conservative groups, such as the American Conservative Union, the Institute for Free Speech (formerly called the Center for Competitive Politics), the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Additionally, she has served as counsel for Republican groups, such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as the general counsel for the National Rifle Association.
Mitchell began her career as a "liberal Democrat" in the Oklahoma State House from 1976 to 1984 where she was the first woman in the U.S. to chair the state appropriations and budget committee and "a driving force behind the passage of Oklahoma's Equal Rights Amendment." But by 1996, Mitchell had switched to the Republican party.
In 2020, Mitchell advised Trump's in his attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election. She supported the former president's inaccurate claims that the election was stolen from him and attended a call during which he told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes that would overturn Biden's victory in the state.
- 1 News and Controversies
- 1.1 Joined the Conservative Partnership Institute as Senior Legal Fellow
- 1.2 Chair of FreedomWorks "National Election Protection Initiative"
- 1.3 Defending Trump's Claims of a "Stolen Election"
- 1.4 Connection to Trump's Former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
- 1.5 Defending Scott Pruitt
- 1.6 Public Interest Legal Foundation
- 1.7 Changed Political Ideology After Husband Convicted of Bank Fraud
- 2 Ties to the Council for National Policy
- 3 Ties to the Bradley Foundation
- 4 Articles and Resources
- 5 References
News and Controversies
Joined the Conservative Partnership Institute as Senior Legal Fellow
In 2021, Mitchell joined the Conservative Partnership Institute as a senior legal fellow and is planning to use her role to "coordinate" conservative voting positions, including in opposition to Democrat-led H.R.1, an elections reform bill that would undo Voter ID laws, support mail-in ballots, and enact automatic voter registration.
Chair of FreedomWorks "National Election Protection Initiative"
In March 2021, FreedomWorks announced Michell would lead a project called the "National Election Protection Initiative", which will oppose H.R. 1, a voting rights bill, oppose other federal voting rights legislation, and focus on the swing-states Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Defending Trump's Claims of a "Stolen Election"
After the 2020 presidential election, Mitchell publicly defended Trump's inaccurate claims that the election was stolen from him, including telling Reuters "the president's allies were prepared to fight what she characterized as a 'very well-planned-out assault' by liberals to change rules about ballot counting after Election Day..."
Mitchell also attended a call during which Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes that would overturn Biden's victory in the state. She resigned from the law firm Foley & Lardner a few days after the call was exposed by the Washington Post.
A former senior attorney at the Justice Department's voting right section noted that Mitchell "reportedly interjected multiple times during the call in which she tried to support Trump's allegations of fraud... Her role in that call may well be part of the investigation [into whether Trump and others broke the law pressuring Raffensperger to overturn Biden's victory in Georgia].
Connection to Trump's Former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
Mitchell joined Trump's legal team after being invited by his former Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows. Meadows appeared to have repeatedly used his campaign contributions for personal expenditures, resulting in a federal election complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Additionally, "a recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, which includes a large, anomalous payment from Meadows' PAC to Mitchell's former firm, Foley & Lardner, suggests that the complaint triggered a federal investigation."
Defending Scott Pruitt
The paperwork to start the scandal-ridden former head of the EPA Scott Pruitt's legal defense fund was filed by Mitchell who also served as Pruitt's attorney. According to E&E News that fund did not become "active" until 2018. The only contribution to that fund in 2018 came from millionaire Diane Hendricks. Mitchell was an active part of defending Scott Pruitt after ethics and campaign finance violation allegations surfaced during his tenure at the EPA, in a National Review article, Mitchell called Pruitt's scandals which ultimately led to Pruitt's resignation, "a manufactured crisis, punctuated by false or exaggerated accusations."
Public Interest Legal Foundation
Cleta Mitchell is the Board Chair of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which sent letters to hundreds of local election workers in November 2017 "as part of a larger concerted effort to remove voters from registration lists and further its false and baseless claim that there is widespread voter fraud across the country."
One panel at the Council for National Policy's 2020 national meeting was called "Election Results and Legal Battles: What Now?". The discussion featured Mitchell, PILF President Christian Adams, and other lawyers.
Mitchell has indicated that PILF "could get active in the legal battles over the new Georgia law", which "makes voting tougher with new curbs on absentee ballots and on voters in heavily Democratic urban and suburban areas..."
Changed Political Ideology After Husband Convicted of Bank Fraud
Mitchell was a Democrat at the beginning of her political career. She helped pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Oklahoma and authored a successful universal preschool proposal in the state. Michell's second husband, Fidelity National Bank board chairman Dale Mitchell, was convicted of fraud in 1992. Cleta Mitchell called his conviction a result of "overreaching government regulation" and "became increasingly disenchanted with the social liberal policies she had supported and moved to Washington to become director of the Term Limits Institute... The combination of events led her to switch her registration to independent and then Republican."
Ties to the Council for National Policy
As of September 2020, Mitchell is a Board of Governors member of the Council for National Policy.
|Council for National Policy|
The Council for National Policy (CNP) is a secretive, Christian Right organization of funders and activists founded in 1981 by activist Morton Blackwell, commentator Paul Weyrich, direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie, right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly and Left Behind author Tim LaHaye. Anne Nelson's book about CNP, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, describes how the organization connects "the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of Western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives.”
CNP membership as of September 2020 is available here.
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
As of February 2021, Mitchell is a board member of the Bradley Foundation.
In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.
Articles and Resources
- American Conservative Union
- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
- Conservative Partnership Institute
- Council for National Policy
- Diane Hendricks
- Donald Trump
- Institute for Free Speech
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
- National Rifle Association
- Public Interest Legal Foundation
- Scott Pruitt
- Washington Post
- Cleta Mitchell In Defense of Scott Pruitt National Review June 28, 2018
- Jonathan Allen Republicans had a secret weapon in the Florida recount fight NBC News Nov. 18, 2018
- JONATHAN KROHN the conservative movement's anti-gay eminence griseThe Atlantic April 4, 2013
- Roger Sollenberger, "One phone call with Donald Trump destroyed this Republican lawyer's career", Salon, February 23, 2021, accessed February 24, 2021.
- Michael Kranish, "Cleta Mitchell, who advised Trump on Saturday phone call, resigns from law firm", Washington Post, January 5, 2021, accessed February 24, 2021.
- Nicholas Riccardi, "Former Trump adviser takes prominent role in voting battle", AP News, March 28, 2021, accessed March 30, 2021.
- Peter Montgomery, "New Right-Wing ‘Election Integrity’ Project Is Chaired by Attorney Who Helped Trump Badger Georgia’s Secretary of State", Right Wing Watch, March 15, 2021, accessed March 23, 2021.
- Peter Stone, "Republican lawyer is key player in voter suppression drive across US", Guardian, April 25, 2021, accessed May 11, 2021.
- Kevin Bogardus Documents: How Pruitt launched his legal defense fundE&E News Oct. 4, 2018
- Timothy Kama GOP donor gave Pruitt $50,000 for legal defense The Hill Dec. 6 2018
- Cleta Mitchell A Defense of Scott Pruitt National Review June 28, 2018
- Brennan Center "Civil Rights Groups Launch National Effort to Combat Alarming Voter Purge Attempt" organizational press release, Nov 22, 2017, accessed May 11, 2021.
- Michael Kranish and Tom Hamburger, "Cleta Mitchell, a key figure in president’s phone call, was an early backer of Trump’s election fraud claims", Washington Post, January 4, 2021, accessed February 24, 2021.