Accountability Elections Oklahoma Trump

John Thompson: Who is Cleta Mitchell, Trump’s Latest Election Lawyer?

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John Thompson, retired teacher in Oklahoma, knows who Cleta Mitchell is. Her career began in Oklahoma.

Cleta Mitchell sat alongside Trump and Mark Meadows as they made the now famous phone call to Georgia election officials to try to persuade or bully them into “finding” enough votes to reverse the election results in that state. Georgia law enforcement officials are now considering filing criminal charges against Trump for his encouragement of election fraud in that call.

Cleta Mitchell’s law firm, Foley & Lardner, questioned her role in prodding Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn the result of the state’s election. She “resigned” from the firm. She embarrassed the firm by encouraging Trump’s efforts to undermine the rule of law and the Constitution. I am happy to report that I was one of what must have been many who expressed those views on the firm’s website.

John Thompson writes:

Who is Cleta Mitchell, “a prominent GOP attorney,” who participated in the already infamous telephone call where President Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn his defeat” in the November presidential election? The Washington Post reports that this “extraordinary one-hour phone call” is described by legal scholars “as a flagrant abuse of power and a potential criminal act.”

Mitchell, the former Oklahoma liberal, subsequently justified the call saying Raffensperger’s office:

Has made many statements over the past two months that are simply not correct and everyone involved with the efforts on behalf of the President’s election challenge has said the same thing: show us your records on which you rely to make these statements that our numbers are wrong.

How is it that the previously respected Cleta Deatherage came to participate in the effort to use “debunked conspiracy theories” to overthrow the results of a clearly legal election? What did Cleta Mitchell think when Trump demanded, “I just want to find 11,780 votes?”

Mitchell had been a well-liked, respected state representative, who became the “first woman in the U.S. to chair a state appropriations and budget committee.” But she said that she realized that professional politicians are “like noncustodial parents in a divorce” who “don’t really know” regular citizens who shop at grocery stores.

I wonder what Mitchell would say about how well this week’s fiasco, merely the latest in the Trump experiment where amateurs and zealots replace professionals, is turning out?   

The Atlantic’s Jonathan Krohn suggested an alternative explanation of how an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment joined with conservative organizations to advance a rightwing agenda. Her allies include, Americans Back in Charge, the Bradley Foundation, the National Rifle Association, the American Conservative Union, the Republican National Lawyers Association, as well as Stephen Bannon’s Citizens of the American Republic, Krohn recalls Mitchell’s effort to expel GOProud, a gay rights group, from the Conservative Political Action Conference. He said her efforts “led GOProud’s Chris Barron to once call her “a nasty bigot,” and [Executive Director Jimmy] LaSalvia to accuse her of “personal animosity towards gay people.”

Krohn explains that Mitchell’s actions are “ironic” because her first husband was gay. They divorced in 1982. Her former husband, Duane Draper, later directed the Massachusetts AIDS policy office, and died of AIDS.

Krohn also recalls Deatherage’s 1984 marriage to Oklahoma City banker Dale Mitchell.  He then reports:

In late 1992, he (Mitchell) was convicted 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–something that his wife says convinced her that government had grown too big.The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer also wrote about Cleta Mitchell’s transformation. She quoted Mitchell’s claim that her husband “is the most honest person I’ve ever known.” His conviction convinced her that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our time.”

Near the beginning of Mitchell’s post-Oklahoma career, she campaigned for term limits for legislators. She eventually developed a “stepmother theory of government.  “Citizen Legislators” would replace politicians; her vision would be “Why not take turns in office like jury duty.” 

If that sounds weird, however, wait until Mitchell’s allies more publicly reveal the next step toward undermining representative government.

Mitchell explained that she changed after her pastor warned of the “perils of struggling all one’s life to succeed at what in the end could turn out to be an unworthy pursuit.”

But, Mayer ended her article on how Mitchell became an “outsider” with the lesson, “appealing to the discontent of those outside the system may be the surest path to becoming an important player inside it.”

Since Mayer’s 1996 article, Mitchell’s allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have devised a plan that is the antithesis of her previous “Citizen Legislators” approach, and is even more disconnected from reality. Documented’s Jamie Corey reveals that nearly a year ago, Mitchell was one of three attorneys working with ALEC on a path that “legislators can take to question the validity of an election.”  It seems impossible to reconcile that tactic with Mitchell’s faith in the people, as opposed to their representatives. And the next ALEC move is even more incomprehensible, unless the goal is to attack American democracy on all fronts.

The Huffington Post’s Mary Papenfuss, in an article about Mitchell entitled Attorney on Trump’s Georgia Call Works with Group Aiming to Eliminate Senate Elections, reports that ALEC is trying to persuade legislatures to the repeal of the 17th Amendment. U.S. Senators would then be chosen by legislators not the voters! 

Getting back to The Atlantic piece on Mitchell, Krohn concludes, “Mitchell herself, ironically, offers a clear model of how people can change.” And while on the subject of changing a person’s mind, Law and Crime now cites the McClatchy report that Mitchell (who had worked for the NRA) “‘had concerns about [the NRA’s] ties to Russia’” and the NRA’s ‘”possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.’” But, I wonder what Mitchell was thinking when she  dismissed the report as a “complete fabrication.” 

Similarly, as reported by Slate, Mitchell was caught on tape telling a closed door ALEC panel on gerrymandering, “My advice to you is: If you don’t want it [notes from the panel] turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home.” Don’t such words raise questions about how she could respect voters over her allies who disenfranchise them?

Above all, I wonder what Mitchell thought when, as Law and Crime explains, the January 2 Trump phone call was “completely undermining Mitchell’s attempts to discuss the matters he raised.” And now, her law firm, Foley & Lardner is distancing itself from Mitchell,So, is it possible that the Cleta Mitchell – who is helping Trump undermine our constitutional democracy – might remember the words of her pastor and distance herself from ALEC’s next unworthy pursuit?

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