Cleta Mitchell: How a lawyer who aided Trump’s 2020 subversion efforts got appointed to a Federal Election Advisory Board

Cleta Mitchell, who was on the phone with Trump in January when urging Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” the votes Trump needed to win the 2020 presidential election, has been quietly appointed to the advisory board of the Election Assistance Commission, which was established in 2002 to help states comply with federal voting requirements.

Mitchell’s appointment came through the United States Civil Rights Commission, a six-decade-old commission designed to develop civil rights policy and help enforce federal civil rights laws. His selection is the result of a partisan row within the Civil Rights Committee following Trump’s appointment of two new members last year, which split the committee 4-4 between Democrats and a Republican members of the commission told CNN.

The fight against the Civil Rights Commission over Mitchell’s nomination to the electoral advisory board – a move that raised alarm bells among electoral law experts given his role in Trump’s electoral subversion efforts – points out to how much Trump’s appointments across government and for obscure boards and commissions have besieged the Biden administration since Trump stepped down.

Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who sparked controversy over ballot mail last year, remains as head of the U.S. Postal Service, amid Democratic calls for President Joe Biden to sack him. The Biden administration has asked nearly a dozen officials appointed to military service academy advisory boards to resign, including former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former House assistant Blanche Kellyanne Conway – but many refused to do so.

Michael Yaki, a Democratic commissioner at the Civil Rights Commission, accused the four Conservative commissioners, led by Trump-appointed J. Christian Adams, of taking “the entire Commission agenda” hostage until that they have the power to appoint a representative of the electoral council. . In the end, the Civil Rights Commission agreed to have Republicans nominating two names for the Election Advisory Board, and Democratic commissioners would choose between them.

Republicans offered Mitchell – and Adams – for Democrats to choose between.

“It was Hobson’s choice between the lesser of two great evils to keep the Commission going: a lawyer who led right-wing efforts to destroy black and brown voting rights in this country, or a lawyer who supported Trump’s election lies that culminated in the Jan.6 insurgency, ”Yaki told CNN.

Adams said in an interview with CNN that if anyone wants to complain about Mitchell’s appointment, they must voice their concerns to Democratic commissioners. “It was their choice. They chose Cleta Mitchell,” he said. “I think the Democrats on the committee made a good choice. Of course, they could have chosen me too. We gave them two very good choices.”

Responding to Yaki’s criticism of his civil rights record, Adams said, “I have done more for the suffrage of African Americans in the past 10 years than I have done in the past 10 years. of his life.

Mitchell’s appointment

The Election Assistance Commission was created by the Help America Vote Act, a bipartisan law passed in 2002 after the controversial 2000 presidential recount in Florida, to serve as a clearinghouse for information on the administration. electoral campaign and provide voluntary advice to States. The law also established the advisory board to which Mitchell was appointed, although the 35-member board has no specific powers beyond advising the commission. Its members include people appointed by the federal government, Congress and other groups such as the Civil Rights Commission.

A board member lamented to CNN that the advisory board really isn’t doing much.

Still, electoral law experts said Mitchell’s appointment was troubling, given his role in Trump’s electoral subversion.

“Cleta Mitchell helped Donald Trump try to overturn the results of a valid election. She should not sit on a board of directors that helps states advance fair elections and democratic processes, ”said Rick Hasen, law professor and co-director of Fair Elections. and the Free Speech Center at the University of California Irvine Law School.

Mitchell became involved in Trump’s campaign shortly after the November 2020 election, when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows asked him to visit Georgia. She was a volunteer legal advisor there and helped the campaign file a complaint in December 2020 to invalidate the results of the presidential election in Georgia by claiming widespread fraud. But her role only became well known when she featured prominently in Trump’s January appeal with Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where Trump called on Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to that he wins.
The appeal is part of the Fulton County District Attorney’s criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 Georgia election results. After the audio of the appeal was made public, Mitchell separated from her law firm. But she was quickly hired last year by conservative groups struggling to pass restrictive election laws, and she helped fund the partisan scrutiny of the Maricopa County ballot in Arizona, which confirmed that Biden had won the state.
The Civil Rights Commission voted to nominate Mitchell to the Election Advisory Board in August, although it was not made public until this week, when Votebeat’s Jessica Huseman first signaled her nomination, tweeting an announcement with a list of board members that included Trump’s former legal adviser.

The commission released a cryptic statement on Tuesday after the disclosure of Mitchell’s appointment, saying: “The EAC does not make or approve appointments to the 35-member advisory board. Board members are directly appointed by a wide variety of ‘organizations. “

Mitchell said in a statement to CNN that she was “very honored that the Democrats in the USCCR have chosen me in a strong display of bipartisanship.”

Responding to criticism of his efforts to help Trump overturn the 2020 election results, Mitchell said the Election Assistance Commission was created by legislation resulting from “Democrat hysteria over the” legitimacy “of the election. ‘2000 presidential election “.

A divided commission

Trump appointed Adams and Stephen Gilchrist to the Civil Rights Commission in August 2020, changing the composition of the commission from a liberal 6-2 split to one as well. Both have been appointed for a six-year term that expires in 2025.

The commission’s statutes state that no more than four members of a single party can sit on the commission at the same time, although liberal-leaning independents often gave Democrats a majority. With a 4-4 split, each side has a veto, as a majority is needed to approve any action.

The controversy did not take long to emerge: in September 2020, the new conservative commissioners blocked from public broadcasting a report on threats to minority voting rights.

Adams is a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration who is chairman of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit group that has sued for the removal of state voters lists and was involved in other electoral disputes. Mitchell is the chairman of the organization’s board of directors.

Adams was also appointed to Trump’s Electoral Integrity Commission which he launched in an attempt to legitimize his false claims that he won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. The commission was disbanded in January 2018 and a commissioner later said she found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Yaki said that earlier this year, Adams and the other three Republican commissioners blocked the Civil Rights Commission’s agenda for the election advisory board nomination. This included a FEMA investigation into discrimination in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and a report on bail reform, according to Yaki.

“They were focusing on the Advisory Council (EAC) as if it could be some kind of platform to change election security and voter fraud – and it really isn’t, but they’re just trying, I guess. , to throw their people wherever they can, ”Yaki said.

Adams said the Republicans on the commission would “keep him hostage until there is bipartisanship.”

“It’s a 4-4 commission. As soon as Democrats recognize that the commission can get the job done,” he said.

Transcripts of committee meetings show commissioners initially agreed to change the rules that would allow for an April nomination process, in which Democratic commissioners would choose between two Republicans for the role. But the appointment was not made until the committee voted to nominate Mitchell to the advisory board in August. The first time Mitchell’s name was mentioned in the commission’s public transcripts was when it was elected in August.

Yaki, who served on the advisory board of the Electoral Assistance Commission, was supposed to be the second appointment of the Civil Rights Commission, but instead resigned from the electoral board. On Friday, the Civil Rights Committee will vote to appoint a new member of the EAC Democratic Advisory Board, which Yaki says has “a history of leadership in civil rights.”

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