Partner at Wisconsin-based top tier law firm aids Trump effort to overturn election

    U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
    U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    A partner at the Milwaukee-based law firm Foley and Lardner made a cameo in President Donald Trump’s extraordinary efforts to overturn his loss in the Nov. 3 election and subvert the voices of the more than 81 million people who voted for Joe Biden. 

    Cleta Mitchell, a political law attorney in Washington D.C. for the international firm, participated in an hour-long phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger in which Trump pressured Raffensberger to “find” enough votes to overturn the state’s election results. A recording and transcript of the call was originally leaked to the Washington Post. 

    Mitchell, according to her Foley and Lardner bio, is an expert in federal ethics laws. 

    Trump’s fight to overturn his election loss has extended into its second month and many partners at high-end law firms across the country had already distanced themselves from the effort. Mitchell’s involvement was much less prominent than the highly visible and unsuccessful and widely mocked efforts of Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell

    In a statement to the New York Times, Foley and Lardner said it wasn’t working for Trump and “any involvement from a Foley attorney in this matter is solely in his or her capacity as a private citizen.” 

    The firm’s director of communications told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that it would not be taking any clients for election-related lawsuits.

    “We are aware of, and are concerned by, Ms. Mitchell’s participation in the Jan. 2 conference call and are working to understand her involvement more thoroughly,” the spokesperson said.

    A PAC associated with the firm had donated to politicians of both parties in the 2020 campaign cycle, according to campaign finance data from OpenSecrets. Foley and Lardner gave the most money this year to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who received $7,000. But it also gave the second most, $4,000, to Madison-area Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan. Wisconsin Republican Reps. Glenn Grothman and Mike Gallagher each received $3,000. 

    Mitchell also sits on the board of the right-wing Bradley Foundation, a conservative philanthropic group based in Milwaukee. 

    The recording of the phone call was the first time Mitchell has been officially tied to Trump’s efforts, but since the election she has been making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. In a November interview on Fox News, she asserted that many illegal votes have been found — a claim that has never been proven. 

    “We’re already double checking and finding dead people having voted, or maybe people have voted across state lines — voted in two states — illegal voting, voting by non-citizens and that sort of thing,” Mitchell said. “We are building that case. We think that there will be evidence that we will have. We already know that there is evidence of that sort of thing, and there are malfunctions in the equipment, improper denial of Republican poll-watchers in certain … counties.” 

    There is no evidence to support any of those claims.

    Mitchell has also worked with a group that brings together Republican state legislators and corporations on an effort to repeal the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, according to the Huffington Post. Mitchell and the group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also worked together this fall to preemptively challenge mail-in votes if Trump lost. 

    John Nygren, who recently resigned from the Wisconsin Assembly, is on the ALEC board of directors. 

    Aside from the election-related conspiracies, Mitchell has expressed doubt over efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. On her Twitter account, she has posted tweets that doubt the efficacy of face masks. She also, according to the Huffington Post, appeared at the White House’s Rose Garden event to announce the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney-Barrett — an occasion that became a COVID-19 superspreader event. 

    Despite Foley and Lardner’s statement that Mitchell was acting as a private citizen and its donations to politicians from both major parties, the firm has been subject to criticism since the release of the recorded phone call. 

    On Twitter, the Lincoln Project — a group of prominent conservatives who fought Trump’s reelection effort — pointed out Mitchell’s involvement and called for the public to pressure her employer. 

    “[Cleta Mitchell] of [Foley and Lardner] was on the phone with @realdonaldtrump when he threatened & pressured @GaSecofState to overturn the will of Georgia voters,” the tweet said, before providing the phone number for the firm’s Milwaukee and D.C. offices. “How does that make you feel? Tell them.”

    THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
    Subscribe now.
    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.