About Cleta Mitchell

Cleta Mitchell is conservative legal activist who is best known for helping Donald Trump attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Cleta Mitchell is a senior legal fellow and the board secretary at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where she leads their Election Integrity Network, as well as chairman and director of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Both organizations have been involved in spreading voter and election fraud conspiracy theories, and attempting to restrict voting rights.

Described by former colleagues as “fringe of the fringe,” Mitchell played a key role in popularizing these conspiracy theories and building support for them within the mainstream conservative movement, and has been instrumental in the conservative assault on voting rights. 

  • Mitchell participated in Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2, 2021, where Trump demanded that Raffensperger “find” enough votes for him to win the state.
  • Mitchell was subpoenaed by the House January 6th Committee for her role in the insurrection, as well as by the special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, which is investigating potential criminal interference in the election. She was also the subject of an ethics complaint by ​​the D.C. Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility “for making false statements and assisting Trump in criminal and fraudulent behavior.”
  • Mitchell was represented by a law firm that received payments from a Trump PAC as she initially worked to defy the House Committee’s subpoena, though she did eventually end up testifying before the committee.
  • Mitchell has advised conservative leaders on how to strike down legislation that removes barriers to voting, and how to craft policies to make voting more difficult.
  • After Trump’s disproven allegations of voter fraud were dismissed by the courts, Mitchell continued to assert the courts never properly addressed them.

In addition to her work surrounding alleged voter fraud and election fraud and “election integrity,” Mitchell is the longtime head of the Republican National Lawyers Association, which has focused on training its members in election law since the contested 2000 election; and serves on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Mitchell has also previously worked as counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Republican Committee, served as a board member of the NRA and the American Conservative Union, and has ties to the secretive Council for National Policy, FreedomWorks, and the Federalist Society.

Before she became a powerful activist in right-wing circles, Mitchell began her career as a Democratic member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in the 1970s and 1980s. She changed her affiliation to independent following an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor of Oklahoma in 1986. She changed her affiliation to Republican in the early 1990s after an FBI investigation against her husband resulted in numerous felony convictions against him, and her family had to pay $3 million in restitution. The investigation convinced Mitchell that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our times” and played a role in her becoming an anti-government, populist activist.

Mitchell served as the co-counsel to the National Rifle Association when the NRA and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mounted legal challenges against the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – which passed the Senate 60-40 (including 11 Republican votes) and was signed into law in 2002. The act aimed to prohibit unlimited funding to political parties, known as “soft money,” and limit donations made to a candidate’s campaign or “hard money.” The NRA’s complaint challenged the provisions of the BCRA that regulated “electioneering communications,” specifically the provision of the BCRA that banned 501(c)(4) organizations, such as the NRA, and corporations, from engaging in such communications. The Court ultimately ruled against the NRA and upheld the ban. 

Mitchell was a key player in the rise of the Tea Party movement in the early 2010s, when she weaponized campaign finance complaints to accuse Democrats of illegal campaign tactics and voter fraud, and pressured third-party candidates to drop out of races to help the GOP.

During this time, conservative commentator George Will described her as “[arguably] the most important Washington conservative not in public office,” and the Wall Street Journal called her the “attack attorney of choice for tea-party stars.”

Congressional candidates and officeholders she represented or worked with include

  • Sharron Angle (R-NV)
  • Christine O’Donnell (R-DE)
  • Joe Miller (R-AK)
  • Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)
  • Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK.)
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
  • Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR)
  • Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK)

Mitchell has a history of making false and exaggerated claims about election integrity:

  • In 2010, Mitchell claimed that then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was providing “clearly illegal” food to voters to steal his re-election that he couldn’t win “outright.” Reid won his re-election by more than five percentage points or over 40,000 votes.
  • In the early 2010s, Mitchell served as the counsel of True the Vote, helping secure its nonprofit, tax-exempt status. To back up TTV’s tax-exempt application, Mitchell argued that “fraudulent voting occurs in the United States,” and cited a 2010 case where nine Floridians were arrested for collecting absentee ballots for a school board election in violation of the law. The judge dismissed the case, ruling there was “no intent to cast a false or fraudulent ballot.” TTV is known for promoting conspiracy theories about election fraud and has since been accused by numerous voters of intimidation and racism.
  • In 2012, Mitchell joined the Bradley Foundation board of directors. While the right-wing funding organization had dabbled in promoting unfounded allegations of voter fraud before, since Mitchell joined the group has spent roughly $18 million on efforts to stoke conspiracies about election fraud and efforts to enact voter suppression, becoming a leader in mainstreaming election fraud ideology among conservative circles.
  • Mitchell has also directed Bradley Foundation funds to voter suppression groups she is directly involved with, including the Public Interest Legal Foundation and True the Vote, as well as to groups affiliated with Hans von Spakovksy and J. Christian Adams.

In 2018, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee wanted to interview Cleta Mitchell about her role in Russia’s potential interference in the 2016 election. Foreign support of American politician candidates is illegal, and at the time, the FBI was investigating Russians who supplied part of the $30 million the NRA spent to elect Trump. 

Mitchell, who had served as counsel and a board member at the NRA, called the allegations a “complete fabrication.” She also publicly attacked the FBI, asking why they were not investigating Hillary Clinton instead of Trump. In 2019, a Senate report revealed that top NRA officials were aware Russians were using their ties with the organization to influence the election.


In August 2020, Trump met with Mitchell in the Oval Office and called her a “great attorney.” Mitchell received the blessing from Trump’s legal team to build the framework for challenging the election results if Trump lost. Mitchell then helped Republican operatives and conservative activists adopt radical strategies in preparation to overturn a potential loss for Trump in 2020. 

  • She convened a working group with the powerful corporate “bill mill” the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC worked to develop the legal groundwork to allow state legislators to utilize the Electoral College to overturn the results of the popular vote in their state over fraud concerns. ALEC has received support from the Bradley Foundation, where Mitchell serves on the board.
  • In a speech at the Council for National Policy months before the 2020 election, the leader of ALEC said that the group was working closely with Mitchell and fellow Public Interest Legal Foundation leader Hans von Spakovksy to explore means to challenge the validity of the election preemptively should Trump lose.
  • Arizona state Rep. Shawana Bolick was closely involved in Mitchell’s working group and has since claimed she would not have certified Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. After the election, Bolick introduced legislation allowing the Arizona legislature to overturn the popular vote in its state, which according to many legal scholars, relies on a radical reading of Article II of the Constitution. This legal interpretation is similar to the memo PILF leader John Eastman presented to Trump in a last-ditch attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Constitutional scholars such as Laurence Tribe, Neil Buchanan, and Michael Dorf have said such interpretations “would make a mockery of American democracy” and are “laughably stupid.”

Mitchell was a key player in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She has said she was motivated by Democrats’ “very well-planned-out assault” on the election. The “assault” Mitchell was referring to was the expansion of COVID-19 safe voting options, which studies found significantly increased voter turnout in a bipartisan manner that did not favor Democrats or Republicans. 

  • Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, directed Mitchell to go to work in Georgia the day after the election. Three days later, when most national news outlets were calling the race for Joe Biden, Mitchell claimed she had substantial proof of illegal ballots filed by dead people that swayed the election–a claim which has since been disproven. By December, her team filed a legal challenge. Meadows’ PAC paid Mitchell’s law firm in December 2020.
  • Michell also participated in the infamous phone call Trump made to fellow Republican and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, pressuring him to “find” just enough votes to ensure Trump won the state and threatening potential criminal consequences if Raffensperger didn’t comply. Mitchell was on the call to support Trump and make his case to Raffensperger. The Washington Post characterized the call as “an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that legal scholars described as a flagrant abuse of power and a potential criminal act.” After news of the call became public, Foley & Lardner, the law firm where Mitchell had been a partner for years, distanced itself from her. Mitchell later resigned but claimed it had nothing to do with her role in the phone call.
  • Mitchell brought fellow PILF leader John Eastman into the fold of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Eastman provided dubious legal theories to Pence and Trump, including a six-point plan to keep Trump in office that was presented just before the events of January 6. Eastman then spoke at the rally that preceded the Capitol riot.
  • Despite Georgia conducting three independent counts, including a recount by hand, all proving Joe Biden won the state, Mitchell continued to claim she didn’t “think we can say with certainty who won,” and to pressure Georgia to find evidence of widespread election fraud she alleges occurred, all of which fueled conspiracy theories about the election. As The New Yorker notes, Mitchell and her allies “keep demanding that election officials prove a negative—that corruption didn’t happen—their requests to keep interrogating the results can be repeated almost indefinitely.”
  • The January 6 Committee subpoenaed Mitchell for her role in the insurrection, and although she initially attempted to defy the subpoena, she did eventually testify before the committee. 

Since Trump left office, Mitchell has advised conservative leaders on how to craft policy to restrict voting access and oppose efforts to expand it. 

  • In 2021, Mitchell was put in charge of a $10 million dollar FreedomWorks initiative to push for voting restrictions and train conservatives to get involved in running elections on a local level.
  • Mitchell also set up an escrow account to fund the Maricopa County, Arizona audit of the 2020 election. The election audit, administered at the instruction of the state’s conservative state legislature, was financed by right-wing conspiratorial groups with connections to QAnon. The audit itself was conducted by the firm Cyber Ninjas, which had “no election or auditing experience” and was “led by a conspiracy theorist who believes the election was rigged.” The audit ultimately found no evidence of mass fraud.

Through her Election Integrity Network at the Conservative Partnership Institute, Mitchell has run training sessions run parallel to the “precinct strategy” promoted by Steve Bannon, who is a former client of Mitchell. The strategy encourages individuals at the grassroots level to assume positions of power in local election systems. 

In addition to undermining voting rights, Mitchell has a history of anti-LGBTQ activism: 

  • Following a vote by Washington D.C. City Council to legalize same-sex marriage, Mitchell led a campaign by Stand4Marriage to put the decision up to a ballot referendum to overturn it.
  • Mitchell was the chief lobbyist for the anti-LGBTQ National Organization for Marriage when the group attempted to outlaw same-sex marriage in Minnesota via ballot initiative.
  • The Atlantic called Mitchell “the Conservative Movement’s Anti-Gay Eminence Grise” after she reportedly led an effort to ban the pro-LGBTQ conservative group GOProud from CPAC, the conservative movement’s annual gala. Mitchell allegedly used her connections in the Tea Party movement to force the ban. Mitchell said of GOProud, “I have no idea what they do except promote the homosexual agenda.” The leader of GOProud called Mitchell a “nasty bigot” for her actions.
  • The LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign has accused Mitchell’s law firm of promoting hate against the anti-LGBTQ community. 

Mitchell has also defended several prominent conservatives who have been caught up in scandals and in some cases indicted for fraud or related activities: 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitchell appeared to treat government orders and guidelines designed to slow the spread of the virus and mitigate the crisis as more of a political issue than a public health one: 

  • In April 2020, Mitchell signed a letter asking the Justice Department to overturn COVID-19 safety restrictions on religious institutions.
  • At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitchell attended a White House party celebrating the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court without a mask. The incident became a superspreader event.
  • Just days later, Mitchell attended an event at FreedomWorks without a mask despite being photographed close to multiple people who had tested positive for the virus. FreedomWorks helped organize protests against stay-at-home orders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Public Interest Legal Foundation: The Public Interest Legal Foundation is a right-wing group that aims to purge voter rolls by suing states and local governments, often based on false, miscalculated, or inaccurate claims of voter and election fraud. Mitchell is the chair of PILF’s board of directors.

Conservative Partnership Institute: Mitchell oversees the Conservative Partnership Institute’s Election Integrity Network. CPI has been called a “central hub” of pro-Trump forces on the right Since the 2020 Election, CPI has held a series of summits focused on enacting voter suppression policy. Mitchell uses these summits to train right-wing activists to act as election monitors. Volunteers trained by Mitchell have reportedly harassed and undermined local election boards while they search for and promote tenuous evidence of systematic voter fraud.

True The Vote: Mitchell previously served as counsel for True the Vote. Based in Texas, True The Vote is dedicated to “comprehensive election code reform,” and their tactics range from alleging voter fraud by Democratic campaigns to concrete forms of voter intimidation and suppression. TTV pushes disinformation about mail-in voting, promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory, and filed suits to purge voter rolls in various states. The group is also known for training right-wing election monitors, similar to Mitchell’s work since the 2020 election. 

Federalist Society: Mitchell is a member of the Federalist Society, the most powerful and far-reaching legal group for libertarian and conservative lawyers and judges.

National Republican Senatorial Committee & National Republican Congressional Republican Committee: Mitchell served as counsel to these committees, which are responsible for electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate and House, respectively. 

National Rifle Association: Mitchell served as the long-time co-counsel to the NRA where she helped litigate a Supreme Court case that aimed to loosen regulations on electioneering communications. The NRA is the leading gun advocacy organization in the U.S. In 2018, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee wanted to interview Mitchell about her role in Russia’s potential interference in the 2016 election due to Russia-NRA connections.

Council For National Policy: Mitchell is a member of the Council for National Policy, an influential and highly secretive networking group for major conservative donors and activists, right-wing religious extremists, and Republican lawmakers. CNP was a key incubator for Mitchell’s plan to convince state legislators to overturn the popular vote in the 2020 election and to plan for legal challenges to the 2020 election.

FreedomWorks: FreedomWorks is commonly used to refer to multiple groups spawned from an operation founded by Charles and David Koch in the mid-2000s. The FreedomWorks brand is strongly associated with the Tea Party movement.  After Trump left office, FreedomWorks launched a $10 million dollar initiative led by Mitchell to investigate allegations of widespread voter fraud, which has been called dubious by legal experts. The initiative has funded the push for voting restrictions as well as training sessions for right-wingers interested in disrupting local elections.

National Organization For Marriage: Mitchell was the chief lobbyist for the anti-LGBTQ National Organization For Marriage’s effort to outlaw same-sex marriage in Minnesota via a ballot initiative. Since 2011, NOM has been run by Brian Brown, the former board chair of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, where Mitchell also plays a key role.

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