President Donald Trump’s revolving door of legal advisers has spun faster than ever in recent weeks as his attempts to overturn the 2020 election have grown more desperate. And in a recording published on Sunday, a now infamous conference call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger revealed that the star conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell had apparently joined the fold as the president’s latest free lawyer.
Over the course of the phone call, first published by The Washington Post, Mitchell could be heard going to bat for Team Trump’s anti-democratic interests.
“I think what the president is saying and what we’ve been trying to do is to say, look, the court is not acting on our petition. They haven’t even assigned a judge,” Mitchell told Raffensperger after a blistering rant from Trump about the secretary of state’s unwillingness to change the results of the election. “But the people of Georgia and the people of America have a right to know the answers and you have data and records that we don’t have access to. And you keep telling us and making public statements that you investigated this and, you know, nothing to see here.”
Until her name appeared in the Post story, Mitchell had conducted her legal work for Trump and his team almost entirely out of the public eye, instead opting to appear sporadically on Trump-friendly media, mostly without disclosing her own role. In one little-noticed podcast appearance, she described herself as a “volunteer” with the Trump campaign’s long, long, long shot legal battle. Though the extent of her current role in Trump’s cause had not been widely known prior to this week—not even to her own law firm, apparently—knowledgeable sources say that it was underway before Thanksgiving.
Moreover, Mitchell had previously repped Trump in a 2011 matter, according to official documents and contemporaneous accounts.
She wasn’t a big presence in the media officially representing the president’s post-election legal team, unlike Trump lawyers such as Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, or the on-again-off-again Trump adviser Sidney Powell, and her name has been absent from the past two months of legal paperwork or court filings that Trump’s team has lodged during the president’s flailing effort to nullify Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the 2020 presidential election, according to a Daily Beast review of records.
But Mitchell’s involvement with Trump, his senior staff, and his legal team on baselessly challenging Biden’s win dates back roughly two months, according to two sources with knowledge of her presence on the team, as well as text messages reviewed by The Daily Beast. In behind the scenes work and legal paperwork, she has become the Team Trump point person for attempting to overturn the voting results in Georgia and has been in contact with Trump and the White House multiple times on these efforts since November. She is viewed by others on the legal team and Trump’s staff as being an ally of Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House chief of staff.
It is unclear why Mitchell’s role was kept largely quiet for as long as it was, though she wouldn’t be the only lawyer who has worked with Trump’s legal team who’s also kept mostly silent about it. In late November, The Daily Beast reported that Christina Bobb, an on-air host at the Trump-endorsed channel One America News Network, had been quietly doing legal work for the president’s so-called “elite strike force,” and had been showing up at campaign headquarters. She did so without disclosing it in her TV coverage of the very same legal efforts.
Mitchell, the White House, a Trump campaign spokesman, and Giuliani did not respond to messages or phone calls seeking comment on this story. But on Monday, Mitchell’s own law firm put out a statement reacting to Sunday’s news of her role in President Trump’s anti-democratic mission in the lead-up to Biden’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., on January 20.
The firm did not sound pleased.
“Foley & Lardner LLP is not representing any parties seeking to contest the results of the presidential election,” the statement reads. “In November, the firm made a policy decision not to take on any representation of any party in connection with matters related to the presidential election results. Our policy did allow our attorneys to participate in observing election recounts and similar actions on a voluntary basis in their individual capacity as private citizens so long as they did not act as legal advisers. We are 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.”
Reached on Monday afternoon, the firm’s spokesman, Dan Farrell, said they didn’t “have more to share beyond” that official statement at this time.
Before Sunday’s call, Mitchell’s public involvement was mostly as an advocate in Trump-friendly media. She made two appearances on Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo to complain about (unsubstantiated) allegations of voter fraud after the election, on Nov. 10. “I've been in Georgia since the middle of the night” she mentioned offhand and said, “I hope to be talking to Mayor Giuliani today about what we're seeing in Georgia.”
In a separate appearance on Fox News with host Sandra Smith, Smith was caught on a hot mic rolling her eyes at Mitchell’s fraud allegations and muttering, “What is happening?”
In a November 30 podcast interview with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Mitchell said, “I’ve been working as a volunteer with the Trump campaign and the legal team in Georgia."
In a separate interview a week later, she told Perkins, "I'm a volunteer. We have some other volunteers helping because there's just so much that needed to be included. The goal was to create a public record that demonstrated the extent of the violations and the illegality.”
In her podcast interviews, Mitchell claimed that thousands of ineligible voters had voted in the election and laid the blame at the feet of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “This election was not valid. Those results are not valid. Whatever anybody says, those are not valid. The secretary of state has a lot to answer for,” she claimed groundlessly.
Over the years, Mitchell earned a reputation as a top-tier campaign finance lawyer for conservative candidates and activist groups with legal problems before the IRS and Federal Election Commission.
During the Obama presidency, Mitchell was a go-to lawyer for the Tea Party movement and the candidates it spawned. When Nevada state legislator Sharron Angle ran against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on a Tea Party platform, she hired Mitchell, who blasted the top Senate Democrat in a fundraising letter for allegedly trying to “steal this election if he can't win it outright" through the alleged use of free food at campaign rallies.
Over the past few years, Mitchell has represented a who’s who of prominent Trumpworld people, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Steve Bannon, and prominent conservative activist groups like the NRA and the Rebuilding America Now Super PAC founded by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in 2016.
When the IRS investigated and delayed granting tax-exempt status to a range of conservative nonprofits in the wake of the Citizens United decision, Mitchell represented True the Vote, a conservative activist group focused on election law, in a suit alleging that the IRS unfairly targeted the group based on its ideological affiliation.
Mitchell’s relationship with Trump dates back at least to 2011, when she represented him against a Federal Election Commission complaint, subsequently dismissed, which alleged that Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen violated campaign finance laws with illegal in-kind contributions when Trump mulled a run for president in 2012.
Shawn Thompson, a former campaign aide to then Rep. Ron Paul, “filed an FEC complaint against me for use of Trump’s 727 aircraft to go to Iowa in 2011,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, told The Daily Beast on Monday. Cohen said he sought out Mitchell to fight the complaint on the strength of her reputation as a skilled campaign finance law attorney.
At the time, she didn’t have a close working relationship with Trump, Cohen said, but her victory in getting the complaint dismissed did create an impression. By the time the 2016 campaign began, “Donald Trump already saw her as a winner,” according to Cohen’s account.
The two have appeared to grow closer in recent years. Trump invited Mitchell to a White House ceremony commemorating the centenary of women’s suffrage in August 2020 and singled her out for praise as “a great attorney... beyond an attorney.”
—With additional reporting by Justin Baragona