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A phone call with Donald Trump destroyed the career of this Republican lawyer

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Last month, veteran political lawyer Cleta Mitchell was forced to resign as an associate at prominent Washington-based firm Foley & Lardner after it became clear that she had secretly helped the former President Trump in efforts to overturn election results, in violation of company policy.

It’s been a tough few months for Mitchell: The Tory activist and political firefighter lawyer has been listed as an officer in a nonprofit run by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, now part of an investigation federal law on fraud. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, a friend and client of Mitchell, has been subject to legal review for allegedly abusing political contributions. Shortly after Mitchell left Foley & Lardner, the company appears to have taken steps to address recently uncovered issues with its own super PAC.

Cleta Mitchell was born Cleta Deatherage in 1950 in Oklahoma, where she served in the state legislature from 1976 to 1984 – as a Democrat focused on women’s rights, believe it or not. In the 1990s, she changed her affiliation with an independent party after the federal government investigated and convicted her husband, Dale Mitchell, of bank fraud, fining him $ 1.3 million in restitution and a sentence of five years probation. Although the judge in the case suggested that Dale was lucky in avoiding jail time, the episode convinced Cleta Mitchell that “excessive government regulation is one of the great scandals of our time,” and she quickly became a registered Republican.

Since then Mitchell has been one of the most influential, albeit largely invisible, figures in conservative politics, serving as legal advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as the National Rifle Association. Individual clients included many Republican elected officials and candidates, including Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, whom the networking company GOP hired. Mark Meadows a week after he left Trump’s White House. Mitchell has also served on the boards of a number of powerful conservative organizations, including the NRA, the Bradley Foundation and the American Conservative Union Foundation, which runs the Conservative Political Action Conference and has suffered a hijacking scandal. funds during his stay.

Mitchell has spoken out fiercely against marriage equality, led attacks on the IRS amid allegations that nonprofits affiliated with the Tea Party were treated unfairly during the Obama administration and, more recently criticized the coronavirus restrictions for allegedly violating the rights of religious groups.

In 2011, Mitchell represented Donald Trump against allegations his exploratory campaign violated federal election laws by accepting illegal in-kind contributions from his own business. She defended Trump’s knowledge of campaign finance laws in a 2018 Wall Street Journal article on the Stormy Daniels scandal, a clip that Foley & Lardner deleted from its page shortly after she left.

When news of Bannon’s arrest for fraud broke last August, Salon reached out to Mitchell for comment on his involvement with his nonprofit Citizens of the American Republic (COAR), which federal prosecutors allege. that Bannon and his associates used as a vehicle to create bogus invoices related to their larger plan. Mitchell declined to speak to the matter, citing attorney-client privilege, but when Salon pointed out that she not only represented the group, but also acted as an officer – the organization’s latest IRS case lists as secretary – she hung up. Mitchell appears to have blocked this reporter’s phone number, and when Salon attempted to reach her through her husband for this story, her husband claimed he was “not allowed to share his contact details.”

Bannon was later pardoned by Trump and it is not clear whether COAR is still part of the ongoing federal investigation into the alleged plot. New York prosecutors are now considering bringing Bannon to the state charges, which likely would not be protected by presidential pardon.

Shortly before Bannon’s arrest, Trump appointed one of Mitchell’s friends to the United States Civil Rights Commission, a bipartisan body whose field of inquiry includes the right to vote. Mitchell, a longtime supporter of baseless election fraud allegations – in 2010, she said then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “Intends to steal this election if he can’t win it outright “- appeared with Trump at an Oval Office event the same month, where Trump introduced her as a” great lawyer. “

In the 2020 election, Mitchell publicly defended Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him. She told Reuters that the president’s allies were ready to fight what she called a “very well-planned assault” by the Liberals to change the rules on counting after election day, measures that, according to Democrats, aimed to ensure that all the appropriate votes counted. After the election, Mitchell played a role in a Fox News clip that went viral, when presenter Sandra Smith was caught expressing disbelief at the attorney’s claims while her microphone was still on .

“Just because CNN says – or even Fox News says – someone’s president doesn’t make him president,” Mitchell said, prompting Smith to roll his eyes and say, “What? ‘called out,’ referring to Fox. projection that Joe Biden had won the election.

Despite media appearances, Mitchell’s post-election work with Trump remained largely unimportant until the Washington Post published a recording of a phone call in which the then president asked the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes that would overturn his state’s result. . Mitchell’s presence at this call – on an “informal” basis, according to Meadows – was remarkable because at the time, Trump struggled to find reputable lawyers to resume his desperate attempts to reverse his defeat, relying instead on conspiracy theorists such as Sidney Powell. and former LifeLock spokesperson Rudy Giuliani.

At one point in that call, Trump interrupted Mitchell when she spoke about allegedly problematic votes for Biden in Atlanta.

“I know, but -” Mitchell said, before Trump intervened.

“OK, Cleta, I’m not asking you. Cleta, honestly. I’m asking Brad,” Trump said, referring to Raffensperger.

It’s unclear exactly when Mitchell started working with Trump’s team, but Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that she had been advising him for “weeks” and was brought on board by Meadows, her longtime friend. At the time, Meadows was the subject of a federal election complaint filed by the government watch group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, based on Salon’s exclusive report that former congressman Caroline du Nord appeared to have misused campaign donations for personal gain. A recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, which includes a large and abnormal PAC payment from Meadows to Mitchell’s former company, Foley & Lardner, suggests the complaint has sparked a federal investigation.

Following news of Raffensperger’s phone call, Foley & Lardner released a statement saying company policy precluded her from representing anyone who tried to challenge the 2020 election results, and that she was “concerned.” by Mitchell’s role in the appeal and that she “was working to understand her involvement more fully.” She resigned the next day, accusing a “massive pressure campaign” waged against her by “left-wing groups via social media “.

However, after his departure, the company appears to have reviewed its work with its PAC employee and decided to take back control of the employees Mitchell hired. Last year PAC received two letters from the FEC informing it that the group’s treasurer, Chris Marston, had not signed monthly reports. Mitchell had hired Marston, a Republican agent, to replace former treasurer and PAC partner Theodore Bernstein. Foley & Lardner overturned that decision after Mitchell resigned, reinstalling Bernstein. It is not known why Marston did not sign the reports and when the company first saw the FEC’s advice.

Foley & Lardner did not respond to Salon’s request for comment.

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