Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Foley & Lardner Lawyer Helps Trump “Find” Votes

Milwaukee law firm’s attorney Cleta Mitchell is Washington insider and ex-liberal feminist.

By - Jan 4th, 2021 01:37 pm
Cleta Mitchell speaking at CPACin 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Cleta Mitchell speaking at CPACin 2012. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

As news accounts blasted President Donald Trump’s effort to pressure Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in that state, a new name surfaced: attorney Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell was on the extraordinary call Trump made to Republican officials who have declared Joe Biden won the state, a call which may have violated state and federal laws, the New York Times has reported.

While many high-level lawyers and law firms have declined to represent Trump on his attempts to overturn a legal election, and the Trump campaign has met with failure on 59 legal challenges in state and federal courts, Mitchell has stood behind Trump, claiming that dead people voted and making other claims of voter fraud. But the Foley & Lardner firm for which she works (in its Washington D.C. office) has released a statement declaring that the firm had “made a policy decision not to take on any representation of any party in connection with matters related to the presidential election results” and is “aware of, and are concerned by, Ms Mitchell’s participation in the January 2 conference call and are working to understand her involvement more thoroughly.” That’s an extraordinary statement about someone who is a partner with the firm. 

All this involving an attorney who was once a liberal Democrat and women’s rights activist. 

Mitchell was born as Cleta B. Deatherage on September 16, 1950, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. She received her bachelor’s degree and law degree at the University of Oklahoma, where “she was a proponent of the women’s rights movement and campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and for legal recognition–then denied in Oklahoma–of a homemaker’s contribution to the value of a married couple’s estate.”

At age 26, Mitchell was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives as a Democrat, where she served from 1976 to 1984, and was the first woman in the United States to chair a House Appropriations and Budget Committee. She also served on the executive committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

As the Oklahoma Oral History Project has documented, Mitchell was a driving force behind the passage of Oklahoma’s Equal Rights Amendment. She was “interested in politics at a very young age,” this account noted, and involved in student council and student government and “would race home from school to watch President Kennedy’s press conferences.”

As a story in The Atlantic reported, Mitchell was then a liberal Democratic who “criticized (Jimmy) Carter aide and women’s-rights activist Midge Costanza, saying her views didn’t go far enough: ‘I don’t think she is sensitive to political reality. She doesn’t know enough about where we are in the women’s movement and the ERA.’”

But in the late-1980s she began to change her politics, first switching to an “Independent” and in 1991 moving to Washington D.C. to become general counsel and executive director of the Term Limits Legal Institute, working on a cause that has been a favorite for conservatives. In 1996, Mitchell switched her political affiliation to Republican. 

What explains the flip-flop in political views? Her current bio with groups like Milwaukee’s conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, where she is a board member, give no hint of the extraordinary transformation in her views.

Her transformation is bookended by two marriages that encountered problems. In 1972 she married Duane Draper, a fellow Oklahoman from Norman, who “later came out as a gay man and became director of AIDS programming at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health,” The Atlantic reported. They divorced in 1982. 

Decades later Mitchell was a key figure involved in expelling a pro-Gay Rights group, Go Proud, from the Conservative Political Action Conference, as The Atlantic story reported in 2013. One “armchair psychologist” has suggested it was the disappointment of her first marriage that turned Mitchell into an anti-gay activist. 

Mitchell’s name came from her second marriage, in 1984, to Oklahoma City banker Dale Mitchell (son of the Major League Baseball player with the same name), “[who] was convicted in 1992 of five felony counts of conspiracy to defraud, misapplying bank funds and making false statements to banks, and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution,” her Wikipedia entry notes, citing The Oklahoman. According to Cleta Mitchell, this convinced her that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our times.” By contrast the judge in this case suggested Mitchell was getting off easy with no prison time.

Mitchell would later become “a leading critic of the IRS for allegedly targeting tea party groups. She testified before Congress in 2014, asserting that “the commissioner of the IRS lied to Congress’” and calling for the abolishment of the IRS. 

By then the conservative Newsmax magazine had named Mitchell as one of the Republican Party’s 25 most influential women. She has served as legal counsel for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Rifle Association, and has represented a long list of prominent Republican politicians, from Elizabeth Dole to Jim Inhofe, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio and Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle. 

Besides the board of the Bradley Foundation, Mitchell has served on the boards of the National Rifle Association and Republican Lawyers Association, where she formerly served as president.

And she is very good at what she does, according to an analysis by Above the Law: “sleek, stylish, opinionated, and outspoken,” a “seasoned litigatrix” able to swat away liberal opponents “with ease.”

But in recent years, as she has become a stalwart Trumpite, she has become increasingly notorious. Last month the publication American Lawyer selected her as “One of the worst, most atrocious lawyers of the year.”

She was a critic of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election and was once on a list of possible witnesses compiled by House Democrats, who wanted her to discuss possible ties between the NRA and Russia, CNBC reported. She wrote columns for the Federalist decrying the impeachment of Trump and defending his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was “photographed without a face mask and failing to social distance at both the Sept. 26 White House event celebrating the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and the FreedomWorks ‘Election Protection Summit,’” as the HuffPost reported. She was “the featured speaker at a FreedomWorks Election Protection Summit in early October, where members strategized to challenge the validity of mail-in votes… only if Biden won.” And she has made sweeping claims of fraud in the 2020 election, including that dead people voted.

Mitchell has also been working with the American Legislative Exchange Committee “to terminate democratic elections of U.S. senators” and instead have senators chosen by each state’s Legislature, as HuffPost reported. 

But she has now become best known for participating in the phone call to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking that he “recalculate” the state’s presidential results to make Trump a winner.

In a statement to The Washington Post following its story on the phone call, Mitchell said Raffensperger “has made many statements over the past two months that are simply not correct.” 

Urban Milwaukee has contacted Mitchell asking her for what proof she can supply to show that there were fraudulent results in the six crucial swing states that gave Biden his victory, and has not heard back. Nor did we get a response from Foley & Lardner as to how long she has worked for the firm. (One document suggests she has been with the firm since at least 2006).

Nor did the Bradley Foundation respond to requests as to when she joined the board. She is the only woman on the 11-person board and the foundation’s annual reports show she has served on the board since at least 2013. She was likely chosen for the board by the foundation’s former president Michael Grebe, who before taking over as Bradley President had served as CEO of Foley & Lardner, was long involved in national Republican politics, and would have known of Mitchell’s work for prominent Republicans.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Foley & Lardner Lawyer Helps Trump “Find” Votes”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    What a horrible human being.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Seems like a good time to remind people that the Bradley Foundation is still considered a “charity” that uses this status to duck property taxes and income taxes, while their oligarch donors write off their contributions on their taxes.

    What “service” is this vote-suppressing lowlife providing, and what things is she advising TrumpWorld on? Seems like something worth discussing at the local, state and federal levels

  3. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Great work Sad personal story to be in her eyes so betrayed to refuse to be human

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us