Ten of Hearts: Election Denier Cleta Mitchell’s dark money-enabled mission? Disenfranchise Swing State voters

 

 

In the beginning . . .

On January 2, 2021, Trump held a one-hour phone call with Raffensperger. Trump was joined by chief of staff Mark Meadows, trade adviser Peter Navarro, Justice Department official John Lott, law professor John C. Eastman, and attorneys Rudy Giuliani, Cleta Mitchell, Alex Kaufman, and Kurt Hilbert.

The infamous call that Trump placed to Raffensperger was in part focused on having Raffensperger re-certify the result. Instead of the Biden electors, Raffensperger would re-certify the Trump electors, sending them to Congress on Jan. 6.

“Under the law you’re not allowed to give faulty election results, OK? You’re not allowed to do that. And that’s what you done,” Trump told Raffensperger on the infamous Jan. 2 phone call. “This is a faulty election result. And honestly, this should go very fast. You should meet tomorrow because you have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president.”

A Fulton County, GA grand jury recommended indicting Mitchell for election interference.

—–

The Fulton County, GA grand jury was not wrong . . .

 

The Conservative Partnership Institute’s three highest-paid contractors had connections to the group’s leaders or their relatives, raising concerns about self-dealing.

Robert Draper and Julie Tate contributed reporting.

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/06/us/politics/trump-conservative-partnership-institute-funds

[Excerpts:]

The Conservative Partnership Institute, a nonprofit whose funding skyrocketed after it became a nerve center for President Donald J. Trump’s allies in Washington, has paid at least $3.2 million since the start of 2021 to corporations led by its own leaders or their relatives, records show.

In its most recent tax filings, the nonprofit’s three highest-paid contractors were all connected to insiders.

One was led by the institute’s president, Edward Corrigan, and another by its chief operating officer. At a third contractor, the board members included the group’s senior legal fellow Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who supported Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The Conservative Partnership Institute applied to the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt nonprofit, and the agency approved. That means donations to the group are tax deductible, like gifts to a food bank or the American Red Cross. It also means that, by law, its money must serve the public good rather than private interests.

 

Must-read WaPo: “Republicans plan blitz of election-related lawsuits, but prospects uncertain”

WaPo:

[Excerpt:]

When Donald Trump installed a new chairman of the Republican Party this month, he explained privately and publicly what he wanted from the GOP: a bigger focus on election-related lawsuits, a more aggressive operation to monitor voting and a vow to make “election integrity” the party’s No. 1 priority.

The party is now striking a more aggressive tone as it recruits poll observers to keep an eye on in-person voting and boasts of positioning thousands of lawyers to challenge ballots and bring lawsuits. The strategy — an outgrowth of the one it used both before the 2020 election and after, when Trump sought to overturn the result — is meant to please Trump, electrify the base and persuade judges to tighten voting rules.

“It’s an extremely high priority for the president,” said the new Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Whatley, referring to Trump.

 

“RNC to add new lawyers focusing on claims of election fraud – including one key figure from 2020 challenges”

CNN:

The Republican National Committee, now under the control of former President Donald Trump and his campaign, is bringing on a slate of new lawyers both internally and externally who will focus intensely on election fraud, an issue Trump has remained fixated on.

The lawyers “will initiate battle on election integrity from an offensive instead of defensive posture,” Chris LaCivita, Trump’s co-campaign manager and newly instated RNC Chief of Staff, told CNN.

LaCivita will bring on Charlie Spies, an experienced GOP lawyer, to take over as chief counsel at the RNC.

Trump attorney Christina Bobb, a former correspondent at the Trump-aligned One America News Network, will join as senior counsel for election integrity. Bobb was very active in promoting Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen and authored a book called “Stealing Your Vote: The Inside Story of the 2020 Election and What It Means for 2024.”

“I’m honored to join the RNC and thrilled the new leadership is focused on election integrity. I look forward to working to secure our elections and restore confidence in the process,” Bobb said in a statement to CNN.

Bobb was directly involved in two separate Trump controversies that led to the former president’s federal indictments in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, as well as the 2020 election subversion case. She has not been accused of any crimes.

In June 2022, while federal authorities were still trying to recover classified documents that remained at Mar-a-Lago, Bobb signed a sworn affidavit on Trump’s behalf, inaccurately telling the Justice Department that there weren’t any classified files left at the club. Special counsel Jack Smith later charged Trump with lying to the FBI and accused Trump of illegally causing Bobb to submit this false declaration even though he knew it was untrue.

She also played a key role in the Trump campaign’s fake electors scheme after he lost the 2020 election, working closely with Trump advisers to organize the plan in seven battleground states. The scheme formed the basis of parts of Smith’s election subversion indictment against the former president, which says Trump and his allies created “fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding” in Congress on January 6, 2021, and “disenfranchise millions of voters.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Bobb was also a correspondent during the 2020 election for the fringe pro-Trump network OAN, where she promoted false claims that the election was rigged. The voting technology company Dominion sued Bobb and OAN for defamation in 2021. Some of her on-air segments were also referenced in a separate defamation case against OAN filed by Smartmatic, another aggrieved voting company. OAN and Bobb have denied wrongdoing in these civil cases.

[Boldface added]

 

The Conservative Partnership Institute has become a breeding ground for the next generation of Trump loyalists and an incubator for policies he might pursue. Its fast growth is raising questions.

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In the lobby of the grand Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., where a sprawling new force in Washington’s right-wing ecosystem, the Conservative Partnership Institute, was holding its winter conference, the former Trump legal adviser Cleta Mitchell was exultant.

“Did you hear the ‘War Room’ today? Bannon was on fire!” she said to a friend. She was referring to the podcast hosted by Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump White House senior adviser who had been condemning Republican senators for supporting billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine and Israel earlier that day.

Ms. Mitchell was among some 150 conservative donors and activists who gathered in Coral Gables earlier this month to celebrate the ascendancy of a group that has become a well-paying sinecure for Trump allies and an incubator for the policies the former president could pursue if elected. The participants toted gift bags in the warm sunshine and swapped golf clothes for business attire at a dinner where they applauded as two Black speakers — Ben Carson, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida — extolled conservative values while condemning the racial identity politics of the left.

The group’s top executive, Jim DeMint, the former U.S. senator from South Carolina, was there, as was Mark Meadows, President Donald J. Trump’s former chief of staff, who is paid $847,000 annually as the organization’s senior adviser. More than a dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus also turned up, as did Mollie Hemingway, the editor in chief of the right-wing journalism website The Federalist, whose parent company C.P.I. helps underwrite.

The message at the conference was “taking on the Swamp” from a nonprofit with a $36 million annual budget from private donors that now operates as a full-service nerve center for right-wing activity and a breeding ground for the next generation of Trump loyalists.

Legislators can hold fund-raisers in its event rooms; send their staff members to training sessions at the group’s getaway lodge in Maryland; do their TV news hits in its studio; or be fed, by text message, follow-up questions for lawmakers to ask witnesses during congressional hearings. Donors can funnel their money through the institute into a host of conservative causes, from promoting Christian values in education to helping pay legal fees incurred by what the group calls “America First public servants.”

“We’re just doing what the other guys have been doing for decades,” Robert Bruce, a retired Texas aviation entrepreneur and C.P.I. donor, said in an interview two days after the conference. “There’s been a void in Washington, D.C., and C.P.I. has filled it by giving conservatives a refuge.”

The organization aims to be much more than a refuge. One of the groups it has staffed and funded, the American Accountability Foundation, says in its mission statement that it seeks to “advance conservative messaging” by aggressively attacking appointees for the Biden administration. Another offspring, the Center for Renewing America, aims to take on what it calls a leftist “cultural revolution” as well as a “taxpayer-funded woke federal bureaucracy.”

 

Billionaire megadonor couple funding election denial with extensive influence machine and dark money network

By 

https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2023/09/billionaire-megadonor-couple-funding-election-denial-with-extensive-influence-machine-dark-money-network-uihlein/

[Excerpts:]

This article is part of a series that is funded in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism that follows the money around the spread of election misinformation.

This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works and the threats it faces. To learn more, visit usdemocracyday.org.

Billionaire shipping supply magnates Richard “Dick” Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth “Liz” Uihlein, have come to prominence in recent years as conservative megadonors. Through their political spending, they have established a web of financial influence that connects them with “dark money” groups, conservative super PACs, activists spreading disproven theories about former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election and campaigns to derail direct democracy efforts in multiple states by curtailing citizens’ ability to bypass lawmakers through ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments.

In 2021, Uihlein’s family foundation gave more than $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, which describes itself as “a home base and a networking hub for conservatives here in Washington” that helps associates “build the relationships and gain the education and training necessary to thrive in an environment that too often strips you of your resolve.” 

Part of the Conservative Partnership Institute is the Election Integrity Network, a self-described “national hub” to “develop and share research and information, develop policy proposals and create legal strategies” that is led by Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell is a former Trump advisor who worked to challenge 2020 election results and was a longtime lawyer for several conservative dark money groups. She currently serves on the board of advisors for the Election Assistance Commission and recently faced criticism over comments at a Republican National Committee donor retreat, where she reportedly called for curtailing voting on college campuses, same-day voter registration and automatic mailing of ballots to registered voters.

The couple scaled up their political activity even more leading up to and during the 2022 elections, with $82 million in giving, making Richard the top conservative donor for the cycle, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis.

Richard Uihlein has also funded initiatives spreading disproven conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Before the Uihleins emerged as major donors, Richard Uihlein had an established relationship with the Tea Party Patriots, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit co-founded by conservative activist and former congressional candidate Amy Kremer. Kremer was one of the organizers of the Stop the Steal rally that preceded the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

During the 2020 election cycle, Uihlein was the top donor to the Tea Party Patriots super PACand has given the operation at least $4.29 million since the 2016 election. 

After her tenure with Tea Party Patriots, Kremer co-founded Women for America First, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that helped sponsor and organize the rally that preceded the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, and was listed on the rally’s National Park Service permit records. Uihlein additionally gave a small amount to the Women for Trump hybrid PAC, an affiliate of Women for America First. 

OpenSecrets’ analysis of tax records found that the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, a charitable foundation controlled by Richard Uihlein, has steered more than $2.2 million to conservative student group Turning Point USA, with $1 million of that in 2020 and another $250,000 in 2021. Turning Point’s affiliated 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Turning Point Action, was listed as a sponsor of the rally on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Each year, Uihlein’s family foundation also gives a modest $3,500 contribution to the Eagle Forum, the sister organization of Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, another sponsor of the rally. 

[Bold-face added]

Cleta Mitchell’s Fear of Democracy

The New York Timesreported last week on an under-the-radar effort pushed by a bunch of Republican-backed dark money groups to enact new voting restrictions in time for the 2024 elections. As the group Documented has shown, in the center of all these efforts is Trump and Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell. Her recent speeches revealed by Documented and journalist/activist Lauren Windsor show that Mitchell is not just motivated to give Republicans an advantage in the next elections; she is opposed to democracy itself. The brazenness of her anti-democratic message and her welcome reception at a recent Republican National Committee donors conference should worry all of us. [Boldface added]

It was jarring to hear leakedrecordings snipped from her presentation at a Republican National Committee donors conference in which Mitchell pushed to make it harder for college students to vote, derided voter outreach efforts by nonprofits, falsely stated that the Census Bureau messed with the apportionment of congressional seats to help Democrats, falsely stated that the U.S. Department of Education required every college receiving federal funds to include voter registration materials as part of the student enrollment package, and solicited money for her ongoing work at suppressing the vote in key battleground states going into 2024.

One might think that Mitchell, an election lawyer who advised Trump on his 2020 call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump tried to get Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votesand flip Georgia’s electoral college votes to him, would be chastened or at least circumspect about her new attempts at voter suppression. She was apparently pushed out as a partner at a major law firm for her attempts to subvert the 2020 election outcome and was subpoenaed before a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia concerning her 2020 election subversion activities. But Mitchell is now working up new mischief through the “Election Integrity Network,” part of the Conservative Partnership Network. According to Axios, Trump authorized a $1 million donation from his PAC to support Mitchell’s work.  

Earlier in April, Mitchell was welcomed to share her plans and insights at an RNC donor conference. Journalist-activist Lauren Windsor has been releasing parts of the leaked audio of Mitchell’s talk, and some of what Mitchell said there about student voting has already made headlines in the Washington Post and elsewhere.

Mitchell lamented that Wisconsin Democrats supposedly targeted 240,000 college students in an attempt to help elect a liberal judge to the state Supreme Court in the election earlier this month. “What are these college campus locations?,” Mitchell complained. “What is this young people effort that they do? They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm so they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed.” 

As Mitchell described the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential election contest, she repeatedly complained about states making it too easy for people to vote. And these claims were not primarily about cheating, although there was plenty of innuendo about that too. They were instead complaints that the United States has too much democracy.

She railed against private foundations such as Mark Zuckerberg providing money to election officials to run fair and safe elections during the 2020 pandemic, after Congress failed to come up with adequate funding to do so. Participation itself is bad in Mitchell’s view, especially if resources are directed to places where Democrats may vote. 

 Mitchell also complained about the activity of charitable foundations being used to motivate more people to vote: “Civic engagement, who could be against that? Expanding the electorate? When they are talking about expanding the electorate, they’re not talking about voter registration drives. They’re talking about how came we literally manufacture voters from people who don’t really have any interest in voting and how can we do that most easily without having what they call ‘voter suppression’ is anything that would protect the integrity of the outcome….” She further lamented outreach to “underserved” communities because she said that those people would vote “90 to 95 percent” for the Democrats.

Her reference to “literally manufacturing” voters is not a claim of voter fraud, to be clear. It is a claim that these groups are motivating people to vote who otherwise would not vote. Mitchell appears to believe that if voting is too easy, the wrong people will be voting. And this is what she wants to fight against.

Mitchell argued in her presentation that many of these groups supporting voter engagement were violating the tax code, because charities cannot engage in certain campaign activities and some of these activities were directed at people who would vote for Democrats. Never mind the chutzpah that Mitchell solicited these RNC donors at this conference to give to her own charity, the Election Integrity Network, right after she told donors which states Republicans should target with voter suppression efforts to win the election in 2024. If those groups were breaking the tax code (I’m skeptical), Mitchell surely was with her own presentation too. A liberal group just filed a complaint against her group for this activity aimed at helping Republicans.

But was more interesting was her aside (at 2:45 on this video), as she was describing the names of some of the groups funded by these foundations: “Let me tell you this. Whenever anybody starts telling you that they’re worried about our democracy or protect democracy, or they’ve got democracy in their name, those are not friends of ours. Because we live in a constitutional republic, not a democracy.”

“They want it to be a democracy and change our founder’s intent,” she concluded.

There it is. Never mind Mitchell’s nonsense about the U.S. being a “republic” not a “democracy.” Voters should still have the right to elect representatives in a fair election in a “republic,” so that argument, as always, proves nothing.

Instead, focus on Mitchell’s vision: Too many people are voting. And If people can vote, Democrats will win.

There’s good reason to doubt the relationship between higher turnout and Democrats winning elections. But no reason to doubt that Mitchell is ready to disenfranchise voters to help Republicans.

She said as much in her deposition before the House special select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and attempted overturning of the 2020 election. Responding to Trump’s attempts to get state legislatures to overturn the will of the people after they had voted for President in 2020, Mitchell said: “The Constitution of the United States grants plenary power to state legislatures to choose electors of the State. Congress has enacted a statute which is an enabling law, which I happen to think is unconstitutional, because the power granted in the Constitution to state legislatures . . . is complete and total. There’s nothing in the Constitution about allowing people, citizens to vote on electors.” She called the votes of the people for President just “advisory.”

Not chastened. Brazen. And welcomed with open arms to the RNC donor conference. Buckle up for 2024.

“Documents show Republican-led states struggling to clean voter rolls after leaving ERIC”

Jen Fifield at Votebeat:

Some Republican-led states are struggling to develop new ways to adequately update their voter rolls after withdrawing from a popular cross-state voter roll cleaning program that came under attack by far-right election activists, according to new documents and internal emails reviewed by Votebeat.

Virginia paid $29,000 in September to regain access to just a sliver of the data they used to obtain via the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. Alabama and Missouri officials took months to come up with new plans for cleaning voter rolls, landing on plans that are less rigorous than ERIC. And a new system some states are considering to help with voter roll cleanup had its server attacked and temporarily brought down, according to documents obtained by left-leaning watchdog group American Oversight and exclusively shared with Votebeat.

The documents also show that senior advisors to secretaries of state in Missouri and Texas recognized that lies were being spread about ERIC, and tried to stop their states from withdrawing from what they saw as a valuable program. In addition, officials in some states such as Ohio had pushed unsuccessfully for changes to ERIC that could have kept their states from withdrawing.

“As you know, I really worked as hard as I possibly could to avoid this,” Amanda Grandjean, then the senior advisor to the Ohio secretary of state, wrote in an email to ERIC executive director Shane Hamlin after Ohio withdrew from the program in March.

(I blogged some of my reaction to the ERIC withdrawals in March here.)

 

“Inside Trump’s Plot To Corrupt the 2024 Election With ‘Garbage’ Data”

Rolling Stone:

As recently as this summer, Trump had talked to right-leaning legal counselors about the feasibility of laying the groundwork for various post-election “audits” of mailed ballots — inspired partly by a shambolic Arizona audit following the 2020 election — in parts of the United States that have historical track records of so-called problems, two sources present for these casual discussions recall.

There are few people more central to Trump’s plans than Cleta Mitchell, the lawyer pushing the secretaries of state to pull out of ERIC at that D.C. meeting. As recently as September, Trump privately praised Mitchell’s work, saying she is going to be “very important” for the next election and beyond.

Once a member of the old-school Republican mainstream, Mitchell has become the most ardent of election deniers. Along with participating in Trump’s 2021 call with Raffensperger, she stunned a Fox News host on-air in November 2020 when she challenged the election results days after the network had already called the election for Biden.

That embrace of Trump dogma has given her staying power in the former president’s network of influential allies. But, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation, it irks some of Trump’s top attorneys working on his various criminal cases — many of which grew out of schemes to overturn the 2020 election. “Cleta is too militant, even for me,” one such lawyer says.

Mitchell sent a lengthy email in response to our reporting, which included insisting that ERIC “is a way to accomplish one of the left’s objectives, and to do so at taxpayer expense: register more people” to vote, “not removing bad registrations.” Mitchell offered up a number of her recurring criticisms of ERIC, Soros, and ERIC co-founder Becker, and noted: “I am proud of the work that we are doing and have been doing for the past three years and, yes, I think that what we are doing to try to restore the rule of law in elections is very important.” She also accused Rolling Stone of participating in “attacks” on “election integrity” activists, and also “me specifically.”…

CONFUSION HAS FOLLOWED in the states Mitchell has persuaded to pull out from ERIC. Former member states have found themselves suddenly deprived of accurate voter-registration data and have scrambled to try to re-create a version of ERIC through side agreements with their neighbors still in the network, says Schmidt, the Pennsylvania secretary. He’s seen some states frantically search to find the most rudimentary public voter-registration data. “All you need is $20 and the ability to use Excel to do the analysis they’re doing,” he says.

But absent the kind of very specific personal information that’s only available through ERIC, “the data is going to be garbage and potentially result in voters being disenfranchised,” according to Schmidt. “You cannot just use, for example, name and birthday to go about taking steps to remove a voter,” he says. “That will result in a terrific number of false matches.”…

[Boldface added]

 

Five Key Takeaways From Our Investigation Into Trump’s Push to Steal 2024

BY RYAN BORT

  1. Trump is determined to do ‘everything’ possible to win in 2024

Trump and his allies have been working since his 2020 defeat to game the system in his favor ahead of a third run at the White House. As Rawnsley and Suebsaeng write:

Trump has spent the past three years moaning to friends at his clubs, to conservative lawmakers, and to political advisers that Democrats will try to “cheat” again, and that the GOP must do “everything” it can to make sure liberals are “stopped,” according to four people familiar with this matter.

One key component of this effort, Rolling Stone reports, is making sure the government is stocked with allies, and that the Republican Party is wholly compliant. It has been, with the Republican National Committee, and the former president himself, calling for supporters to descend on polling places to “watch” for any suspicious activity. Republicans in several states have also been cracking down on mail-in ballots, which generally are used more by Democratic voters.

It’s all part of an effort to “hit the Democrats on all sides,” as a person close to Trump describes his thinking to Rolling Stone.

     2. Trump is already auditioning lawyers to challenge the 2024 election

Trump’s crack team of election attorneys after the 2020 election included since-indicted Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis. A person close to Trump tells Rolling Stone says he is intent on assembling a “better, smarter legal team,” and that the former president has already been “auditioning” conservative lawyers who could help him challenge the 2024 results, including through post-election audits of mail-in ballots.

Cleta Mitchell — who was on the January, 2021 call on which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes he needed to surpass Biden in the state — is a major player in Trump’s effort to tilt the scales in his direction in 2024. He’s touted her as “very important” to his election efforts as recently as September. Trump’s praise for Mitchell isn’t surprising considering her devotion to the lie that he won in 2020. She’s doing whatever she can to make sure he returns to the White House, with one Trump attorney describing her to Rolling Stone as “too militant, even for me.”

     3. Team Trump has a vendetta against an election integrity organization used by both parties

Trump and his allies, including Cleta Mitchell, have been working to stop states from using data provided by Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to spot voting irregularities and identify unregistered voters. Thirty-three Republican and Democratic states did so, but nine GOP-led states have ditched the data in the past two years — thanks in part to conspiracy theories that it is part of the nonexistent Democratic election-rigging apparatus. Trump wrote on Truth Social in March that Republican governors should “immediately pull out of ERIC,” describing it as a “terrible voter registration system that ‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up.”

     4. It’s bad news if states stop using data from that organization, ERIC

“ERIC is quite possibly the most valuable, useful tool that we have to strengthen election integrity,” Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt, a Republican, tells Rolling Stone.

The states Trump’s team have convinced to stop using ERIC have found themselves deprived of accurate voter data, which is not good. “The data is going to be garbage and potentially result in voters being disenfranchised,” Schmidt says. “You cannot just use, for example, name and birthday to go about taking steps to remove a voter. That will result in a terrific number of false matches.”

David Becker, one of ERIC’s founders who left the organization this year amid right-wing pressure, notes that inaccurate voter lists will create long lines on Election Day, mail-in voting issues, and general delays in determining a winner of the election. “The bigger potential damage here is that election losers — people who have lost an election or perceive themselves to be about to lose an election — will have more time and more space to create false narratives about an election being stolen,” Becker tells Rolling Stone.

    5. Trump’s allies are trying to promote a MAGA version of the ERIC

Trump allies have developed EagleAI, a new tool to fill the void in the states that have ditched ERIC. It uses problematic data, however, like property-tax records, which exclude anyone living in apartments. Schmidt, Pennsylvania’s Republican Secretary of the Commonwealth, calls it “totally unreliable.”

Schmidt adds that it would likely result in “a terrific number of challenges to voters who are registered and eligible.” This could wind up overwhelming already-overwhelmed election officials with countless challenges eligibility sort, as well as potential litigation. It’s another way for Trump’s team to muddy the waters and cast doubt on election integrity.

EagleAI claims that “hundreds of individuals and county election offices in 23 states” have shown interest in using it.

 

Inspired in part by Donald Trump’s baseless rigged-election claims, the activists are trying to recruit supporters to serve as poll watchers and election workers in the state’s legislative contests. 

 The state is a month away from tossup elections that will decide control of the state’s closely divided legislature.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/11/us/politics/virginia-election-integrity-activists

[Excerpts:]

In 2021, after Republican victories in Virginia, conservative activists were so proud of their work training poll watchers, recruiting election workers and making other attempts to subtly influence the voting system that they wrote a memo called “The Virginia Model.” The memo detailed ways that other states could follow Virginia’s lead in protecting so-called election integrity.

Now these activists are turning their attention back to Virginia, which is a month away from tossup elections that will decide control of the state’s closely divided legislature and offer both national parties clear evidence of their electoral strengths and weaknesses heading into 2024.

In the run-up to the 2021 election, activists trained by Virginia Fair Elections collected claims of malfeasance and filed a lawsuit challenging at least 390 ballot applications that were missing Social Security numbers. The suit was dismissed, but conservative news outlets focused on the complaint and began to argue that the coming vote in Virginia would be “stolen,” as many activists believed had happened in 2020. (Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, ended up winning, and his party made gains in the legislature.)

Nonetheless, Republican-aligned groups like Virginia Fair Elections continue to try to tighten voting laws.

Virginia Fair Elections is managed by the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank that was formed in 1996 with moderate fund-raising in the low six figures annually. But as the think tank shifted its focus to so-called election integrity efforts after the last presidential contest, it raised over $508,000 in 2021, according to data kept by ProPublica.

That money included a $125,000 grant earmarked for the “Virginia Fair Elections project” from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major funder of groups that have proliferated myths about voter fraud. Its board includes Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative lawyer who played a key role in trying to overturn the 2020 election.

In 2021, the “Virginia Model” executed by Virginia Fair Elections became the blueprint for the Election Integrity Network, a national coalition guided by Ms. Mitchell that quickly became one of the most influential organizations seeking to change voting laws and recruit local activists.

Last year, Virginia Fair Elections hosted a two-day gathering conceptualized by Ms. Mitchell. The group boasted of having trained 4,500 poll watchers and election officials, and of covering 85 percent of polling locations in Virginia on Election Day in 2021 and during the 45 days of early voting.

Georgia panel urged criminal charges against Lindsey Graham, Cleta Mitchell and other Trump allies

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney Cleta Mitchell, and former Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were also among those who were recommended for indictments.

Sen. Lindsey Graham came under scrutiny for his efforts to contact Georgia election officials after the 2020 election and press them on vote-counting procedures while in the middle of an ongoing recount. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

A special grand jury convened by Georgia prosecutors recommended criminal indictments of Sen. Lindsey Graham and a slew of other allies of Donald Trump who have not been charged by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, according to a report unsealed Friday.

The special grand jury, which led a year-long investigation of efforts to subvert the 2020 election in Georgia, helped Willis compile a massive trove of evidence that she used to secure a sprawling indictment last month against Trump and 18 alleged co-conspirators, including Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and others.

But the special grand jury report, which was filed in December but had been largely kept confidential until Friday, shows that a majority of the panel urged her to indict a much wider array of figures linked to the effort.

They include:

  • Graham, the South Carolina senator who came under scrutiny for his efforts to contact Georgia election officials after the election
  • Former senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia
  • Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn
  • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn
  • Attorney Cleta Mitchell

Inside the right’s effort to build a voter fraud hunting tool

Experts warn that EagleAI, a database that helps voters examine the voter rolls themselves, could drown election workers in unreliable reports of ineligible voters.

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2024-election/conservatives-voter-fraud-hunting-tool-eagleai-cleta-mitchell

After years of claiming that American elections are rife with fraud, conservative election activists are preparing a new tool to take matters into their own hands.

Activists are currently testing a computer program called EagleAI NETwork, a database loaded with voter rolls and other records that promises to quickly churn through the data and find registrations that may be suspect based on other sources. The activists then personally evaluate the flagged voter registrations one by one — looking up home addresses on Google Maps, searching for obituaries online — and prepare lists of questionable registrations to report to local officials.

It’s the latest in a growing trend of voter fraud vigilantism, as activists seek to insert themselves into routine election administration processes looking to uncover problems and find proof of voter fraud. And while a handful of individuals in Georgia and Texas have taken in recent years to filing mass voter challenges, EagleAI could turn that steady stream into a nationwide flood.

For several months, activists around the country, organized in part by influential Trump ally Cleta Mitchell and the Election Integrity Network she founded, have been learning to use the program in Zoom trainings and organizing into state-specific teams in preparation for its launch, according to recordings of software demonstrations and activist meetings seen by NBC News. Some Georgia users began testing the software this summer, the meetings reveal, while Florida, North Carolina, Nevada and Texas are slated to follow. Mitchell declined to speak with NBC News.

EagleAI, pronounced “eagle eye,” is being pitched as an alternative to the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan, interstate partnership that helps states share data to keep their voter rolls up-to-date and was recently targeted by election conspiracy theories. And while EagleAI has been shopped around to at least a handful of county and state election officials, according to interviews and public records requests, it has so far found more fertile ground among activists.

Election experts and voting rights advocates warn that an activist-led strategy risks overwhelming election workers with reports of problem registrations generated by amateurs using unreliable data. And those reports may, in turn, intimidate voters or require them to jump through hoops to maintain their voting rights.

This story is based on documents, emails, records requests and recordings of activist meetings and software demonstrations, some of which were obtained by the liberal investigative group Documented and shared with NBC News, as well as interviews with state and local election officials. The activist meetings took place between March and late July, illustrating the program’s development, testing and preparations for a national rollout.

EagleAI’s creator, retired physician Dr. John W. “Rick” Richards Jr., said that his company is in talks with people in at least 23 states. He said his program is nonpartisan and insisted it will help, not hurt, election workers and voters.

“EagleAI NETwork™ is a tool where citizens concerned with this issue can log in, see the data, easily review the data against publicly available data, and with a click, send the data to their local election officials,” Richards said, adding that it would “vastly improve the public’s trust.”

‘Potentially thousands’ could face voter challenges

The program, which one explanatory document shared with activists described as akin to “Excel on steroids,” is a database that plans to compare voter rolls with data sources such as business records, property tax data, and mail forwarding and address data from the U.S. Postal Service. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote about the program on Monday.

EagleAI flags certain voter registrations for review, such as registrations tied to commercial addresses or those in which mail forwarding suggests an individual has moved. The program guides users to personally evaluate flagged voter registrations one by one using the data and online sources. When users think they’ve found a questionable voter registration, EagleAI helps users prepare the information — collating registration information and any supporting materials, like a newspaper obituary — so it can be sent to election administrators.

Richards stresses that EagleAI doesn’t make determinations about voter eligibility. In an email to NBC News, he said it “simply points out voter registrations that need to be reviewed by the election officials.”

But since the program facilitates voter challenges in states that allow it, voters may experience it quite differently.

In Georgia, for example, once election officials agree to consider a challenge, the voters are informed by mail that their eligibility to cast a ballot is being challenged and are invited to attend a hearing to defend their voting rights.

A 2021 law in the state encouraged voter challenges, by adding to the election code that individuals could file an unlimited number of challenges. Last year, at least 92,000 voters’ eligibility was called into question. The majority were rejected by election officials at hearings, but it’s unclear how election officials will view mass challenges in multiple states generated by EagleAI — and if voters will feel pressured to attend to preserve their voting rights.

Jason Frazier, a Fulton County resident who has challenged thousands of voter registrations in Georgia, helped with the development of EagleAI, according to Richards. Frazier, who participated on camera in one meeting seen by NBC News, did not respond to a request for comment.

The surge of challenges in 2022 drove Fulton County to hire a mapping firm to help them investigate voter addresses they couldn’t verify, including those associated with commercial addresses; the vast majority of the registrations were validated, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June, highlighting the limitations of public data being used by amateur fraud hunters.

Richards said in his email to NBC News that his program — if purchased by the counties too — would make the challenge process easier for everyone involved. But some Georgia state officials who have seen the pitch remain skeptical.

 “EagleAI presentations that I have seen are confused and seem to steer counties towards improper list maintenance activities,” Blake Evans, Georgia’s elections director, said in a statement to NBC News. “EagleAI draws inaccurate conclusions and then presents them as if they are evidence of wrongdoing.”

Richards, who said Evans’ view was “not true,” also told Georgia officials that he’d found error-riddled voter rolls, with more registrations than eligible voters. Evans said the company is misunderstanding — and misconstruing — how list maintenance works, and painting typos and formatting differences, like typing a voter registration in all caps, as problems.

“Eagle AI data offers zero additional value to Georgia’s existing list maintenance procedures,” Evans added.

Election experts warned that the kind of public data that Richards plans to use may lead to a high rate of false positives. ERIC, the coalition of states that share data to flag registration problems, uses personal, protected data like driver’s license numbers to ensure accuracy when it’s flagging voter registrations for problems. The EagleAI activists will be using public data, according to Richards, though he told NBC News he’d like to get more data by partnering with states.

“The results are going to vastly over-inflate potentially inaccurate voter registrations,” said David Becker, an election expert who led the effort to create ERIC, which is run and financially supported by member states. 

And while he warned the election officials might get overwhelmed by reports, he’s most worried about the voters.

“Imagine if you got a notice in the mail saying that your eligibility as a registered voter in the place where you live is being challenged for some uncertain reason. You have to actually physically present yourself … to prove you are who you are and that you’re entitled to vote where you always voted,” he said. “That could happen with not a handful of people, but with potentially thousands.” 

Experts also warned that the program — or the individuals’ use of it — might employ search techniques that could be discriminatory. 

In a March training, Richards said the program will flag registrations at “vulnerable community homes” like homeless shelters or nursing homes for review. In a July training, that module was still in development. 

“Not only is that discriminatory, but it seems to be based on pretty inaccurate premises — that these are questionable addresses for voter registration,” said Alice Clapman, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Richards said that both types of residence should be monitored for election issues, such as “when an unhoused person registers to vote at temporary shelters, soup kitchens and jobs center, and ballots continue to be mailed to the center for years when the citizen has long since moved on,” he said.

That’s not true in states like Georgia, where Richards lives and the program has launched, but there are states where voters can request mail ballots for more than one election. If a ballot is mailed to the wrong address, there are other security measures to prevent it from being cast by an unauthorized individual.  

‘The left will hate this’

EagleAI appears to have won the support of Mitchell, the influential Republican attorney, this spring.

Mitchell is perhaps best known for working with Trump in his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She was on the phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when the former president said he wanted to “find” 11,780 votes to flip the state’s presidential result. On Monday, Trump and 18 others were indicted on felony racketeering and other charges in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election in the state. (Mitchell was not among those indicted.)

“The left will hate this. They will hate it. But we love it,” Mitchell said during a March demonstration of EagleAI, which was hosted by the North Carolina Election Integrity Team (NCEIT), a state group that works with her national coalition, the Election Integrity Network.

In the following months, she has appeared to be progressively more engaged in the program, as more activists got involved.

In late April, Jim Womack, a Mitchell ally who runs NCEIT, told activists in a meeting that Mitchell was working with Richards directly on the program’s national rollout plan. By the end of the month, a law firm Mitchell is a beneficial owner in, Compass Legal Group, told the IRS they were representing Valid Vote, a 501(c)3 group established to support EagleAI. By the summer, she was guiding activists on their efforts to connect with election officials and prepare for the program’s launch. In one meeting, a recording of which was viewed by NBC News, she remarked to Richards that he should move Nevada up the list for a quicker launch.

Mitchell has also been an influential opponent of ERIC, according to an investigation by NPR that included materials obtained by Documented. That report found that she helped organize and boosted the conspiracy-laden campaign against the interstate partnership, which has lost eight member states since 2022.

For Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of Documented, the two efforts are inextricable.

“For over a year Cleta Mitchell and her Election Integrity Network played a central role in coordinating attacks on ERIC, and are now secretly backing an effort to fill the list maintenance void that they created with a project designed for MAGA activists to generate mass voter challenges,” he said.

Richards said he’s talked with “thousands” of people about EagleAI. In meetings — some of which included more than 100 attendees — activists appear eager to dive in.

“You don’t have a contact in the state of Minnesota?” a woman asked on a late July call, inquiring about the qualifications needed to be a state-based point person on the program. “I certainly don’t want to miss out on this.”

Cleta Mitchell Couldn’t Overturn the 2020 Election, So Now She’s Suppressing Voters

https://www.democracydocket.com/analysis/cleta-mitchell

On June 1, North Carolina Republicans — bolstered by a new legislative supermajority — introduced a new elections bill that would enact sweeping changes to election policy in the Old North State. Reporting from WRAL News revealed that the North Carolina GOP didn’t come up with these policy ideas all on its own. They were aided by Cleta Mitchell, a Republican election lawyer who’s become increasingly prominent in right-wing circles.

State legislators getting outside help isn’t unusual, but Mitchell isn’t just any Republican election lawyer. A long-time advocate of false election claims, Mitchell aided former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and has become a key player among election-denying activists.

Mitchell’s history of boosting fraud claims culminated in her work on behalf of the Trump campaign.

Mitchell spent most of her career as a Republican lawyer, serving as counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and multiple Republican lawmakers and candidates. She’s also been promoting baseless claims about fraud in American elections for almost as long. 

Her interest in supposed election fraud dates back to the 2000 election, which she claims showed her the need to focus more intently on election rules. Since then, she’s been involved in a network of Republican activists pushing voter fraud allegations into the mainstream. Through the right-wing Public Interest Legal Fund (PILF) — of which she serves as chair — she has helpedbring numerous lawsuits to try to force states to purge voters from the rolls.

In the lead up to the 2020 election, she raised unfounded concerns about mail-in voting, writing for Fox News that “absentee-ballot voting is vulnerable to intimidation, fraud and chaos.” Even before the pandemic led to widespread voting changes, she was working with state legislators on strategies to “question the validity of an election” in case Trump didn’t win the popular vote.

But Mitchell took on an even more prominent role in Trump’s efforts to directly challenge the 2020 election results, putting together a case that claimed the election was marred by fraud. She enlisted John Eastman to join the legal effort, who later went on to write legally suspect memos claiming that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to unilaterally discard electoral votes from disputed states. Most infamously, she participated in Trump’s call asking Georgia officials to “find” only “11,000 votes.” Trump even called her out by name on the call: “All we have to do, Cleta, is find 11,000-plus votes.”

Following the call, her law firm released a statement expressing concerns about her involvement, suggesting she broke company policy by advising Trump. In response, Mitchell resigned. Unfortunately, that just meant she had more time to devote to voter suppression and election subversion.

Since 2020, Mitchell has doubled down efforts to restrict voting.

Since leaving her law firm, Mitchell has committed to helping Republican legislators pass restrictive laws and spreading false election claims. She raised funds for Arizona’s sham audit of the 2020 presidential election and played an instrumental role in Republican efforts to tighten voting laws and oppose federal voting protections in 2021. 

Earlier this year, she delivered a presentation to the Republican National Committee (RNC) about how to suppress college student votes, criticizing pre-registration policies, same-day registration and the placement of polling locations on college campuses. She argued that changes to the rules were essential for a Republican to win the presidency in 2024, revealing the partisan goals motivating her work.

Through the Election Integrity Network, a coalition of right-wing activists and grassroots pressure groups she founded in 2021, she’s also been working to recruit election-denying activists to monitor elections and scour voter rolls for inaccurate registrations. In conjunction with the RNC (which is now free to conduct poll watching activities after the expiration of a 30-year long ban), she spent much of 2022 preparing for the midterms and training volunteers for poll watching and related activities. Election officials expressed concern that her methods bordered on surveillance designed to feed distrust and pressure local officials.

Mitchell has also led efforts to pressure Republican-led states into leaving the Election Registration Information Center (ERIC), a tool used by states to ensure accurate voter rolls. She met with Republican secretaries of state and used her pressure groups to convince them to abandon the program. 

Even though ERIC is designed to tackle voter fraud — the very problem that Republicans like Mitchell claim to care about the most — GOP states have been abandoning the voter roll system en masse, with eight states leaving since Jan 2022. Instead, Mitchell is setting up vigilante grassroots groups that, as Georgetown professor Don Moynihan observes, will “do what ERIC has done…but in a way that is more onerous and will predictably lead to voter and election officials harassment and error.”

Meanwhile, her preexisting legal group PILF has expanded its purview to filing lawsuits tackling other matters. With Mitchell as chair, PILF has filed a lawsuit against New York City’s law that allows noncitizens to vote in local elections, challenged Delaware’s attempt to expand mail-in voting to all voters and filed “friend of the court” amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court inboth of this year’s major voting rights cases. No longer focusing solely on voter purges, PILF is dipping its toes into proactive lawsuits designed to change voting laws, too.

Mitchell betrays the North Carolina GOP’s real motives.

Upon unveiling their new election bill, North Carolina Republicans made predictable statements that the bill was about “restor[ing] some confidence…in the voting process.” But Mitchell’s involvement underscores the real motive behind the push for restrictive voting laws. It’s all about making it harder to vote to ensure that, in Mitchell’s own words, a Republican wins in 2024. 

Since 2020, Mitchell has become one of the lodestars on the election-denying right. As both a lawyer with ties to the Republican establishment and the leader of grassroots activists, she’s uniquely positioned to push for restrictive voting changes and keep election conspiracy theories in the forefront of Republican policymaking — in North Carolina and beyond.

[Boldface]

Propelled by a new coalition of Trump allies, Republican-led legislatures have continued to pass restrictions on ballot access, including new limits to voting by mail in Ohio, a ban on ballot drop boxes in Arkansas and the shortening of early voting windows in Wyoming.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/08/us/politics/voting-laws-restrictions-republicans.html

The first recent wave of legislation tightening voting laws came in 2021, when Donald J. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud spurred Republican lawmakers to act over loud objections from Democrats. Two years later, a second wave is steadily moving ahead, but largely under the radar.

Propelled by a new coalition of Trump allies, Republican-led legislatures have continued to pass significant restrictions on access to the ballot, including new limits to voting by mail in Ohio, a ban on ballot drop boxes in Arkansas and the shortening of early voting windows in Wyoming.

Behind the efforts is a network of billionaire-backed advocacy groups that has formed a new hub of election advocacy within the Republican Party, rallying state activists, drafting model legislation and setting priorities.

The groups have largely dropped the push for expansive laws, shifting instead to a strategy one leader describes as “radical incrementalism” — a step-by-step approach intended to be more politically palatable than the broad legislation that provoked widespread protest in 2021.

“They haven’t stopped trying to change how our elections are run. They’re just doing it out of the spotlight,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United, a nonpartisan election group. Some of the policies being promoted today will be law in time for next year’s presidential election, she added, “and American voters will feel the impact.”

Republicans have long said their goal is “election integrity,” but a spate of recent proposals suggests clear, and sometimes strikingly specific, political aims. National Republicans recently sought to change the rules for a single race in Montana — for the U.S. Senate — to tilt the scales toward the Republican candidate. In Ohio, Republican state lawmakers are seeking to make it harder to pass a ballot initiative, just as a coalition of abortion rights groups is collecting signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

On a recent conference call with activists in Michigan, Cleta Mitchell, one of the chief architects of the new coalition, blamed “electoral systems” for the party’s losses in midterm elections, and not, as pundits have said, abortion messaging or poor candidates, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times.

“I think you have got to figure out what we have to do, where to fix the system that gives a Republican candidate a potential chance to win,” she said.

Ms. Mitchell declined to comment.

[Boldface added]

With some legislatures still in session, the full picture of new election laws is still coming into view. But this account of the state of the Republican campaign is based on documents, recordings and meeting minutes provided by Documented, a liberal investigative group, as well as on interviews and data analysis.

For their part, Democrats have moved in the other direction — pushing to expand ballot access through more mail voting, adding new forms of acceptable identification to vote and expanding early voting. This year, 28 laws in 17 states and Washington, D.C., have been signed into law that will expand access to voting, according to the Voting Rights Lab.

The right’s shift to smaller steps is clear in Georgia and Florida, two battleground states that passed broad new laws a couple of years ago. This year, Georgia Republicans focused narrowly on banning outside funding for election offices. Florida passed a law that, among other provisions, puts new restrictions on voter registration groups.

While the downshift in ambitions is strategic, signs also suggest that Republicans have become wary of some types of restrictions. Party leaders have increasingly warned that its opposition to mail and early voting is discouraging Republican voters from casting ballots and costing the party races. Even Mr. Trump has been urging voters to cast ballots by mail, although he still suggests falsely that the system is rigged to favor Democrats.

In Idaho and South Dakota this year, Republicans joined with Democrats to vote down bills that would have effectively ended no-excuse absentee voting.

Ms. Mitchell, who played a central role in Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, has become a leading force in the right-wing coalition.

Last year, her Election Integrity Network corralled thousands of activists to act as poll watchers and monitors in midterm elections. Now, Ms. Mitchell is working to turn those people into an enduring base of activists lobbying state lawmakers.

Ms. Mitchell’s network convenes regular meetings of lawyers, policy advocates, political operatives and state-level activists, some of whom promote the most far-fetched theories about hacked voting machines.

The coalition draws from a list of well-funded advocacy groups: the Honest Elections Project, which is backed by the 85 Fund, a nonprofit affiliated with the conservative activist Leonard Leo; the Election Transparency Initiative, a project tied to Richard Uihlein, a shipping supply magnate and Republican megadonor; and the Foundation for Government Accountability, which has received funding from both the 85 Fund and Mr. Uihlein’s foundation.

[Boldface added]

“The conservative side of the spectrum is largely playing catch up to the left, which has had an extremely well-organized, well-funded effort to push their progressive voting policies,” said Jason Snead, the executive director of the Honest Elections Project.

Ms. Mitchell’s priorities for the group include a mix of longtime proposals, such as ending same-day voter registration, and more recent fixations, like shortening early voting and prohibiting election offices from accepting private donations, known in some circles as Zuckerbucks, after the grants a nonprofit backed by Mark Zuckerberg gave to local election offices in 2020. [Boldface added]

Some proposals buy into election conspiracy theories, such as pressing state election officials to withdraw from a once-obscure multistate database of voter roll information.

The database, known as ERIC, was long considered an important security tool and enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. But after theories spread claiming the system was part of a liberal plot to steal elections, activists in Ms. Mitchell’s network and others lobbied Republicans to turn against it.

Seven states have pulled out of the system.

Brendan Fischer, the deputy executive director of Documented, said such advocacy reflected the priorities of donors and leaders.

“These measures were not just a response to organic grass roots activism, but rather shaped and promoted by a cadre of dark money groups,” he said.

Until recently, the Foundation for Government Accountability was best known as a Florida-based think tank that focused nearly all of its lobbying on seeking to dismantle government assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare initiatives.

But in early 2021, the group added election issues to its portfolio. A few months later, when Republican secretaries of state gathered at the Conrad hotel in Washington, D.C., for their annual conference, the foundation was the only outside organization with a speaking slot at every panel.

By 2022, the group’s fingerprints were on new voting legislation in Missouri, where its policy advisers assisted in crafting a voting bill that created strict new photo identification requirements, banned drop boxes and outside funding of elections and limited third parties from engaging in voter registration.

(The bill also added two weeks of early voting, but, in a provision apparently intended to discourage a legal challenge, those weeks would be revoked if a court struck down the new voter I.D. requirements.)

Jay Ashcroft, the Republican secretary of state of Missouri, said he had worked with the foundation on ideas and asked for help in creating legislative language. But when it came time to draft the bill, Mr. Ashcroft added, “F.G.A. wasn’t there. It was senators, it was representatives.”

By 2023, the group did explicitly write language. In Arkansas, for example, the Legislature passed a bill, and in April the governor signed it into law, establishing new rules for poll watchers. The legislation’s language was nearly identical to model legislation drafted by the foundation months earlier.

The group says its success in those states has been replicated across the country. In its 2022 annual report, it claims to have been involved in passing 70 “election integrity policy wins” across 19 states in 2022. That tally represents the success of “radical incrementalism” over “seismic shifts,” Tarren Bragdon, the foundation’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“Our view is it’s better to understand what is possible and pursue reforms that can get across the finish line with broad buy-in from voters and legislators,” he said.

Another measure of the network’s influence is the rising opposition to ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to pick more than one candidate. Advocates for the system believe it gives voters more options and discourages political polarization.

But when reliably Republican Alaska was poised to elect its first Democratic member of Congress in nearly 50 years through ranked-choice voting, the network of think tanks and organizations on the right sought to turn lawmakers against the process.

The Foundation for Government Accountability and the Honest Elections Project each published reports criticizing ranked-choice voting as confusing and undermining voter confidence. The Honest Elections Project began a “Stop RCV” coalition.

In a January meeting of Ms. Mitchell’s legislative working group, Lynn Taylor, the president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, told activists in states across the country to connect with the foundation for model legislation that would ban ranked-choice voting, according to notes from the meeting.

In March, advocates with Opportunity Solutions Project, the nonprofit arm of the foundation, testified in favor of ranked-choice voting bans in Texas, South Dakota and Idaho.

Their coordinated efforts appear to have worked. At the end of 2022, only two states — Tennessee and Florida — had introduced legislation to ban ranked-choice voting.

Now, roughly four months into 2023, Republicans have introduced bans in six states. Montana, Idaho and South Dakota have each signed one into law.

Nick Corasaniti covers national politics. He was one of the lead reporters covering Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016 and has been writing about presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and mayoral campaigns for The Times since 2011. @NYTnickcFacebook

Alexandra Berzon is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the Politics desk, focused on elections systems and voting. She was previously an investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal and covered the gambling industry and workplace safety. @alexandraberzon

 

“The Jolt: Georgia megadonor tells Trump attorney [Cleta Mitchell] election was clean”

Lauren Windsor with another audio reveal from the Cleta Mitchell conversation to RNC donors. More here at the AJC.

From a donor apparently identified as Tommy Bagwell, to the assembled crowd:

I’m one of the largest donors to Trump in the state of Georgia.  Not anymore.  But one of the worst things you can do in this stuff is start repeating and promoting stuff that absolutely just didn’t happen.  And the Georgia election was pretty damn clean.  I’ll defend a lot of it, if you want to, on a sidebar. 

But Dominion voting machines connecting to the internet and talking to Chavez is beyond insane.  It didn’t happen.  We printed hard copy ballots and you got a hard copy of what you electronically voted.  You looked at it and when you turned it in, they printed it and said, “Now, you see this is your ballot that you’ve marked, and it’s printed, and it’s counted, and it’s locked.”  That was clean.  Everything — especially that Mr. Trump promoted — that I heard was roundly and convincingly debunked.  The big eruption of the water pipes – no, it didn’t happen.  The rollaboard suitcases under the tables – and here we have video of ‘em pulling out – didn’t happen.  Those were official locked boxes.  I’ve seen high definition, high resolution videos where you zoom in and that was what it was supposed to be.  It goes on and on and on. …

Ballots getting mailed out: didn’t happen in Georgia.  They don’t mail out ballots, they mail out applications for ballots.  So everything that I could – everything I could hear that I could look at and I could talk to different people, not all of ‘em were Democrats – and it was just debunked. . . .

[Then Mitchell responds.  Bagwell later interjects:]

You really kind of misinterpreted what I said.  What I said about those bins was correct.  What I said about the plumbing was correct. … I was just trying to tell the audience to know what they were talking about, because I had so many of my close friends – I’m one of the reddest state, reddest voters, in the reddest county, in the reddest state, I mean the reddest county in the state, and I’m on the team – but I don’t like to say something unless I absolutely know.  The way I was raised up in north Georgia is, you don’t ever call someone a thief or a liar unless by God, you’ve got proof, or there’s going to be a fistfight, right then. … So all I’m saying is that all of those things that were running around all over north Georgia – and close friends and my wife – have been debunked.

All of the audio from the excerpt, including the parts I’ve excised and Mitchell’s intervention in the middle, is online.

Top GOP lawyer decries ease of campus voting in private pitch to RNC

A presentation by Cleta Mitchell at a donor retreat urged tougher rules that could make it harder for college students to cast ballots

Cleta Mitchell, a longtime GOP lawyer and fundraiser who worked closely with former president Donald Trump to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, gave the presentation at a Republican National Committee donor retreat in Nashville on Saturday.

The presentation — which had more than 50 slides and was labeled “A Level Playing Field for 2024” — offered a window into a strategy that seems designed to reduce voter access and turnout among certain groups, including students and those who vote by mail, both of which tend to skew Democratic.

Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment, and it is unclear whether she delivered the presentation exactly as it was prepared on her PowerPoint slides. But in addition to the presentation, The Post listened to audio of portions of the presentation obtained by liberal journalist Lauren Windsor in which Mitchell discussed limiting campus and early voting.

“What are these college campus locations?” she asked, according to the audio. “What is this young people effort that they do? They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm so they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed.”

The GOP has not formally endorsed Mitchell’s plan but has worked closely with her since Trump left office.The presentation made clear that at least some key figureswithin the party remain intent on tightening rules for voting and elections. The persistence of the message as the 2024 vote approaches comes despite the fact that candidates who emphasized Trump’s stolen election narrative were repudiated in many key statewide races in the 2022 midterms.

After the presentation, Mitchell was seen at the Four Seasons hotel bar, meeting with donors and Republican strategists.

“As the RNC continues to strengthen our Election Integrity program, we are thankful for leaders like Cleta Mitchell who do important work for the Republican ecosystem. Our guests in Nashville were grateful for her to travel to the event and share her efforts,” said Keith Schipper, an RNC spokesman.

Mitchell told her RNC audience that her organization, the Election Integrity Network, “is NOT about winning campaigns,” according to the text of the presentation. But the slidesgave little other rationale for why campus or mail voting should be curtailed. At another point in the presentation, she said the nation’s electoral systems must be saved “for any candidate other than a leftist to have a chance to WIN in 2024.”

“The Left has manipulated the electoral systems to favor one side … theirs,” she wrote in the presentation. “Our constitutional republic’s survival is at stake.”

Republicans have claimed that lax ID requirements — such as allowing college identification or mail voting where no ID is required — open the door for voter fraud. But they have produced no evidence of widespread fraud — and experts say that’s because it doesn’t happen.

At one point in the presentation, Mitchell said she is optimistic that the Virginia Senate will flip to Republican control this year, allowing for the elimination of early voting in the state, according to the audio reviewed by The Post.

“Forty-five days!” she said ina reference to Virginia’s early voting period. “Do you know how hard it is to have observers be able to watch for that long a period?”

Some advisers to other elected officials were frustrated the RNC allowed her to speak at a major event, given her role on behalf of Trump after the election and her repeated false claims about voter fraud. But they did not want to criticize her publicly.RNC officials noted that other speakers who were critical of Trump were also given prime billing at the event.

In Trump’s private comments to donors at the event, he said that he eventually wants to end all mail and early voting, according to audio obtained by The Post. But until that happens, he said, Republicans had to get better at it.

Mitchell advised Trump and was on the call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021 when Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn the result.

“All we have to do, Cleta, is find 11,000-plus votes,” Trump said on the call, which is now under investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis as part of a broader inquiry into efforts to overturn the 2020 result in Georgia.

Mitchell has long been a prominent Republican lawyer who has worked for a range of causes, candidates and committees, including the National Rifle Association, former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Mitchell was a partner in the firm Foley and Lardner but resigned a day after the Raffensperger call, following a statement from the firm criticizing her participation in the call and her involvement with Trump.

After her resignation, Mitchell defended her involvement with Trump’s efforts in a letter to family and friends. “Those who deny the existence of voter and election fraud are not in touch with facts and reality,” she wrote.

Mitchell soon founded the Election Integrity Network and has recruited volunteers and held regular calls with officials across the country in a bid to “develop and share research and information, develop policy proposals and create legal strategies,” according to the group’s website.

Campus voting has been a contentious issue for years, with Republicans in states including New Hampshire, Idaho and Texas seeking to curtail the use of college identification cards to vote. Supporters of these measures have said they want to prevent out-of-state students from voting in their states and also prevent the use of identification that does not include a home address.

In her presentation in Nashville, Mitchell focused on campus voting in five states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin — all of which are home to enormous public universities with large in-state student populations.

Mitchell also targeted the preregistration of students, an apparent reference to the practice in some states of allowing 17-year-olds to register ahead of their 18th birthdays so they can vote as soon as they are eligible.

Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer who has sued Republicans over their efforts to tighten student and youth voting laws, said Mitchell’s efforts appear aimed at making it harder for young people, who tend to vote Democratic, to cast their ballots.

“Imagine if in every place in this presentation where she references campuses, she talked about African Americans,” Elias said. “Or every place she says students, she instead talked about Latinos. There is a subtle but real bigotry that goes on when people target young voters because of their age.”

Elias is leading a suit in Idaho seeking to block a new law that removes student IDs from the list of permissible identification for voting. Idaho,which has a large in-state student population, saw one of the largest increases of student-aged voter registration between 2018 and 2022 of any state, according to research from Tufts University.

“The point is they don’t want their Idaho students voting in their state,” Elias said.

The chief sponsor of the Idaho bill, Rep. Tina Lambert (R), said on the floor of the statehouse in February that its purpose was to prevent the use of IDs that are issued without rigorous verification processes. She said the bill is not intended to block students from voting.

In her presentation, Mitchell also called for the ouster of two Republican elected officials in Maricopa County, Ariz., who defended President Biden’s victory there in the face of Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged — County Recorder Stephen Richer and County Supervisor Bill Gates.

Richer said any effort to try to eliminate campus voting locations would fail because Maricopa polling places are chosen based on data science. He said such an effort wouldn’t have much effect in Arizona anyway, since the vast majority of voters cast ballots early and by mail.

He also decried the “audacity” of Mitchell targeting two Republican officials at a meeting of the RNC and said it would backfire.

“What do they think will happen in Maricopa County if they run an election denier in the primary against me?” Richer asked. “How do they think that person will do in the general? They’ll get their butts kicked, just like Mark Finchem” — the 2022 Republican nominee for secretary of state — “got his butt kicked.”

Much of Mitchell’s report appeared to be based on years-old Republican talking points, including the need to fight back against moves Democrats made as long as a decade ago to oppose voter ID laws.

But she also exhorted Republicans to help her build — and fund — on-the-ground organizations in 10 states. In particular, she called for “oversight” in Fulton County, home of Atlanta, where Republicans have long criticized election management. And shecalled for combating the power of the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada, an election turnout juggernaut for Democrats in the Las Vegas area.

The presentation featured a map claiming to highlight the eight states that will decide the 2024 presidential election. But the list included Alaska — a state that has not chosen a Democrat for president since 1964 — and Virginia, which hasn’t chosen a Republican for president since 2004. And it omitted two states that have been razor-thin battlegrounds in recent elections: Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Gardner reported from Washington. Michael Kranish in Washington contributed to this report.

[Boldface added]

 

Dark money groups push election denialism on US state officials

April 5, 2023

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/apr/05/heritage-foundation-election-voting-rights-republican-states

Three of the most prominent rightwing groups that spread election denial lies and advocate for restrictions on voting rights in the US have joined forces in a secret attempt to woo top election officials in Republican-controlled states.

Led by the Washington-based conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, the groups have created an incubator of policies that would restrict access to the ballot box and amplify false claims that fraud is rampant in American elections. The unstated yet implicit goal is to dampen Democratic turnout and help Republican candidates to victory.  [Boldface added]

Details of the two-day “secretaries of state conference” held in Washington in February were obtained by the watchdog group Documented and shared with the Guardian.

Officials from 13 Republican-controlled states, including 10 top election administrators, participated in the event. Attendees discussed controversial “election integrity” ideas of the sort weaponized by Donald Trump.

Among the participants were nine secretaries of state and Virginia’s election commissioner, all of whom preside over both statewide and federal elections in their states including next year’s presidential contest. A list of attendees name checks the chief election officials of Indiana, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Documented also obtained the conference agenda which lists a number of Trump associates among the speakers. They include Ken Cuccinelli who, as acting deputy secretary for homeland security, played a key role in setting elections policy for the Trump administration.

Cuccinelli now runs the Election Transparency Initiative which is fighting Democratic efforts in Congress to shore up voting rights, and has been active in pushing state-level vote restriction measures.

The keynote speech was given by Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state in Ohio. He was an early adopter of Trump’s lie about rigged elections, championing the idea in the 2016 presidential race which Trump won.

Blackwell now chairs the Center for Election Integrity at the America First Policy Institute, a rightwing thinktank led by former Trump officials. The center has been touting election-related model legislation.

Heritage was careful to organize the conference amid tight secrecy. Among the records obtained by Documented is an email from Hans von Spakovsky, a lawyer at the foundation who leads their election work.

Responding to a query about the event from a Texas official, Von Spakovsky said: “There is no livestream. This is not a public event. It is a private, confidential meeting of the secretaries. I would rather you not send out a press release about it.”

HEP is a conservative dark-money group closely tied to the Republican operative Leonard Leo who was instrumental in engineering the current conservative supermajority on the US supreme court. Reporting by ProPublica and the New York Times last year revealed that Leo has receivedcontrol of a staggering $1.6bn to advance rightwing causes.

Concern about the potential of top election officials to subvert democracy intensified during the 2022 midterm elections when a number of individuals committed to Trump’s stolen election lie also ran for office. They formed the “America First Secretary of State Coalition” which became a conduit of far-right conspiracy theories linked to QAnon.

Most of those candidates failed in their bid to take over the reins of election administration in their states. But the Heritage conference suggests that the desire to deploy Republican secretaries of state as channels of voter suppression and election misinformation remains very much alive.

Though chief election officials are tasked with ensuring that ballots are fair and impartial, the Heritage conference was attended only by Republican secretaries of state.

The Guardian asked Heritage to explain why its conference was held in secret and with only Republican attendees. The group did not answer those questions.

Von Spakovsky said that the event was an “educational summit intended to provide information on current issues in elections and ensure that our election process protects the right to vote for American citizens by making it easy to vote and hard to cheat”.

He disputed the argument that security measures at the ballot box such as voter ID suppressed turnout. “The claim that secure elections somehow promote greater restrictions is outrageous and has been clearly disproven,” he said.

Von Spakovsky also pointed to Heritage’s election fraud database, which he said sampled “proven instances of election fraud from across the country”. The database records 1,422 “proven instances of voter fraud” stretching back to 1982 – a 41-year period during which billions of votes have been cast in the US.

Several of the participants at the conference have election denial and voter suppression track records. They include Florida’s secretary of state, Cord Byrd, who, soon after being appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis last spring, refused to say whether Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election.

Byrd runs Florida’s “election integrity unit” that was set up by DeSantis last year to investigate election crimes, even though there is scant evidence of substantial voter fraud. More than a dozen citizens accused of illegally voting have been arrested at gunpoint under DeSantis’s crackdown on supposed voter fraud.

Another attendee – Jay Ashcroft, secretary of state of Missouri – has been a leading proponent of that state’s new restrictive voting law. His office has been named in numerous lawsuits in the last year for imposing extreme constraints on voter registration, including a recent lawsuit accusing Ashcroft of illegally blocking a ballot measure.

Tennessee’s secretary of state, Tre Hargett, another listed participant, has been accused by Democratic leaders in Tennessee of purging thousands of voters from the official rolls.

Panel discussions laid out in the agenda were held on several of the core talking points of the current Republican party. The opening discussion, moderated by Von Spakovsky, was on “Auditing Expertise”.

The main speaker was Paul Bettencourt, a state senator in Texas who has sponsored several bills making it harder to vote including a measure that would deploy armed “election marshals” to oversee polling stations.

Before the conference-goers attended a cocktail reception and dinner held at an upscale restaurant in downtown Washington, day one ended with a session entitled: “Realistic Eric Fixes and Reforms”. Eric – the Electronic Registration Information Center – is a non-profit group run collectively by 28 states which is used to finesse the accuracy of state voter rolls.

In recent months it has become the target of rightwing conspiracy theories fueled by Trump who claimed falsely that it was rigged to benefit Democrats.

Ashcroft, the Missouri secretary of state, was one of the speakers in that session. Earlier this month he announced that he was pulling Missouri out of Eric, making it one of the first Republican-controlled states to quit the organization along with Alabama, Florida and West Virginia.

This article was produced in partnership with Documented, an investigative watchdog and journalism project. Jamie Corey is a senior researcher with Documented

[Boldface added]

 

The Dangerous Journey of John Eastman

How a mild-mannered law professor became the architect of a scheme to overturn a presidential election.
[Excerpt:]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At any rate, two weeks after the Newsweek op-ed appeared, the Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell brought Eastman aboard the campaign’s volunteer “Election Integrity Working Group,” which was preparing to contest the expected theft of an election still two months away. By the next month, the nearness to Trump’s orbit seems to have begun working its sinister magic. Erwin Chemerinsky, a prominent progressive who is currently the dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law and a former dean of the University of California at Irvine’s law school, recalled that he and Eastman had been debate partners for 16 years on the conservative professor Hugh Hewitt’s high-profile radio show. Chemerinsky recalled their association fondly. “I always felt that he was very conservative,” he told me, but “we were arguing the issues” rather than trading barbs. That October, however, Chemerinsky made a joint radio appearance with Eastman on a different program and found him changed. “John was very different than he ever was before,” Chemerinsky said. “He was nasty, he was talking over me. It was almost like debating Trump.”

 

Georgia Grand Jury Recommends Indictments for Witnesses In Trump Election Case

The report doesn’t say whether Trump himself should be indicted for interfering in the 2020 election, but jurors said witnesses who lied about what happened should be prosecuted.

 

How The Fake Electors Scheme Explains Everything About Trump’s Attempt To Steal The 2020 Election

New materials illustrate why Fani Willis and Jack Smith have focused on this esoteric part of Trump’s plot.

Josh Kovensky

February 10, 2023

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/how-the-fake-electors-scheme-explains-everything-about-trumps-attempt-to-steal-the-2020-election?
[Excerpts:]

Instead of a series of disconnected, disparate schemes all aimed at the same goal, the fake electors plot provides a lens through which to view the entire effort, giving Trump’s 2020 plans a coherence, with each piece fitting neatly together. Now, two years after the violence of Jan. 6, this fresh look at the scheme reinforces how efforts to spread conspiracy theories, subvert the DOJ, weaponize state legislatures, summon an angry mob and, ultimately, pressure the vice president on Jan. 6 were all part of the same plot, with fake electors at the center.

Though much of Trumpworld quickly cottoned on to the fake electors scheme, the origins of the plan remain murky. The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman reported in September 2020 that versions of the scheme were already being discussed; he cited “sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels.” 

But what these schemes all have in common is that they rely on the fake electors to move forward. 

Take pressure on the state legislatures. 

Per the plan, the Trump campaign would need not only to swear in fake electors regardless of whether it won the underlying state, but also persuade the state legislatures to intervene in the election and certify the votes for Trump — regardless of which candidate won the state. 

Right-wing attorney Cleta Mitchell explained the idea in her testimony to the committee as follows. [Boldface added]

“The legislature has the authority to choose the electors,” she said. “And they don’t have to ask anybody’s position, in my view.”

But the legislatures would need some convincing that the election was fraudulent, or at least unable to be decided. That’s where the increasingly harebrained conspiracy theories came in — desperate bids to sway state legislators who could, some believed, de-certify Biden’s electors. Court cases repeating these claims — the overwhelming majority of which were unsuccessful — were seen as largely aimed at the same audience. 


The infamous call that Trump placed to Raffensperger was in part focused on having Raffensperger re-certify the result. Instead of the Biden electors, Raffensperger would re-certify the Trump electors, sending them to Congress on Jan. 6.

“Under the law you’re not allowed to give faulty election results, OK? You’re not allowed to do that. And that’s what you done,” Trump told Raffensperger on the infamous Jan. 2 phone call. “This is a faulty election result. And honestly, this should go very fast. You should meet tomorrow because you have a big election coming up and because of what you’ve done to the president.”

 

Revealed: Trump secretly donated $1m to discredited Arizona election ‘audit’

Funding for controversial review of state’s vote count in 2020 election can be traced to former president’s Pac

‘The money had reached its destination, with no Trump fingerprints anywhere in sight.’

[Excerpts:]

One of the enduring mysteries surrounding the chaotic attempts to overturn Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential battle has been solved: who made a secret $1m donation to the controversial election “audit” in Arizona?

The identity of one of the largest benefactors behind the discredited review of Arizona’s vote count has been shrouded in secrecy. Now the Guardian can reveal that the person who partially bankrolled the failed attempt to prove that the election was stolen from Trump was … Trump.

An analysis by the watchdog group Documented has traced funding for the Arizona audit back to Trump’s Save America Pac. The group tracked the cash as it passed from Trump’s fund through an allied conservative group, and from there to a shell company which in turn handed the money to contractors and individuals involved in the Arizona audit.

Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based company that led the Arizona audit, disclosed in 2021 that $5.7m of its budget came from several far-right groups invested in the “stop the steal” campaign to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential victory. It was later divulged that a further $1m had supported the audit from an account controlled by Cleta Mitchell, a Republican election lawyer who advised Trump as he plotted to subvert the 2020 election.

But who gave the $1m to Mitchell?

[Boldface added]

The money trail exposed by Documented begins with Trump’s loosely regulated leadership Pac, Save America, which raised millions in the wake of Trump’s 2020 defeat on the back of the false election fraud narrative. In its final report released in December, the bipartisan January 6 committee investigating the insurrection at the US Capitol highlighted how Save America Pac gave $1m to the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI).

The committee did not say what the money was for, or where it ended up.

Top CPI officials include Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, along with other senior Trump insiders after they left the White House. The organization is developing a political infrastructure to sustain the former president’s Make America Great Again (Maga) movement.

Documented’s research shows that discussions around a possible payment from Trump to the Arizona audit began in June 2021. Records obtained by American Oversight reveal that on 27 June, the retired army colonel and arch election denier Phil Waldron texted the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan, saying: “Kurt is going to talk to 45 today about $$.”

The “45” in the text is a reference to Trump – the 45th president of the US – and “Kurt” may have been a reference to the election-denying lawyer Kurt Olsen. Waldron added: “Mike L talking to Corey L” – alluding to Mike Lindell, chief executive of MyPillow who is a devotee of Trump’s stolen election lie, and the former Trump presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

On 16 July 2021, Waldron asked Logan if he had received “a 1mil [payment] from Corey Lewendowsk [sic]”. He went on: “Supposedly Kurt talked to trump and they got 1 mil for you,” but that “I couldn’t verify who sent and who received.”

Logan responded that he had not yet received payment from Trump.

Ten days later, on 26 July 2021, Trump’s Save America Pac made its $1m transfer to CPI, according to Federal Election Commission records. Two days after that, on 28 July, a new group called the American Voting Rights Foundation (AVRF) was registered as a corporation in Delaware.

Tax filings obtained recently show that CPI in turn gave $1m to AVRF in 2021 – the only known donation that the group has ever received. The date of CPI’s donation to AVRF is not a matter of public record, but other details – including CPI’s relationship with AVRF, the timing and amounts of the known transfers, and the discussion among Trump allies about the former president’s plans to give $1m to the audit 10 days before Trump gave $1m to CPI – clearly indicate that it was the money that came from Trump’s Pac.

Records obtained by American Oversight showed that AVRF was connected to Mitchell, the former Trump lawyer who is now a senior fellow at CPI. She is best known for having taken part in the infamous phone call in January 2021 that is now being weighed by an Atlanta prosecutor, in which Trump tried to pressure Georgia’s top election official to “find 11,780 votes” needed for him to win.

Documented has discovered that the ties between CPI and AVRF went even deeper. CPI entities effectively controlled AVRF.

Tax records show that AVRF’s “direct controlling entity” is America First Legal, the CPI-launched project led by Trump’s former speechwriter Stephen MillerTax records also show that another CPI project, the Center for Renewing America, lists AVRF as one of its “related organizations”.

The final stage in the money’s journey was from AVRF to Cyber Ninjas and the audit itself. The same day that AVRF was registered in Delaware – 28 July 2021 – Mitchell sent an email connecting the Cyber Ninjas CEO Logan, together with the spokesman of the audit Randy Pullen, to AVRF’s treasurer, Tom Datwyler.

The email, contained in the documents obtained by American Oversight, spelled out that money was about to be transferred from AVRF to Arizona contractors approved by Cyber Ninjas.

The last step was recorded in an email sent the following day, 29 July, in which Mitchell itemized $1m split into three separate payments going to two entities supporting the audit and to individuals “working at the audit site”. CPI’s president, Ed Corrigan, is cc’ed on the email.

The money had reached its destination, with no Trump fingerprints anywhere in sight.

The Guardian has invited both Save America Pac and CPI to comment but they did not immediately respond.

 

Cleta Mitchell, in Jan. 6 Committee Deposition, Expresses View that (Old) Electoral Count Act is Unconstitutional and Legislatures Have Absolute Power over Electors; The People’s Vote for President is Just “Advisory”

Amazing from the Cleta Mitchell deposition transcript, at pp. 20-21:

 

The insurrectionists’ clubhouse: Former Trump aides find a home at a little-known MAGA hub

Nearly two dozen alleged members of the Jan. 6 plot are connected to a single Capitol Hill address.

https://www.grid.news/story/politics/2022/07/05/the-insurrectionists-clubhouse-former-trump-aides-find-a-home-at-a-little-known-maga-hub/

[Excerpts:]

The network has broad reach and keeps an eye on future elections: CPI helped found and support the election monitoring nonprofit run by ex-Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, along with roughly a dozen other dark money and advocacy groups, virtually all of which share the address of the CPI town house on official reporting. Mitchell did not respond to inquiries from Grid for this story.

Several of the figures of greatest interest to the Jan. 6 committee are now employed by CPI or its subsidiary groups, including:

  • Cleta Mitchell: Mitchell was a legal adviser to Trump’s campaign. She was on the infamous call between Trump and Georgia election officials, which cost her a job as a partner at the Foley and Lardner law firm. The Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Mitchell and deposed her. Mitchell is a senior legal fellow at CPI and runs the CPI-backed Election Integrity Network, which holds “election integrity summits” to train partisan volunteers who want to get involved in election administration. Mitchell records her election-themed podcast, “Who’s Counting?” at CPI.

The network has broad reach and keeps an eye on future elections: CPI helped found and support the election monitoring nonprofit run by ex-Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, along with roughly a dozen other dark money and advocacy groups, virtually all of which share the address of the CPI town house on official reporting. Mitchell did not respond to inquiries from Grid for this story.

These organizations employ or assist at least 20 key operatives, reportedly involved in Trump’s failed effort to subvert the 2020 election, including Mitchell, ex-Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, and former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who was the subject of both a recent Jan. 6 hearing and an FBI raid. And they help raise millions for Trump-aligned members of Congress — more than $38 million over the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, according to the nonprofit OpenSecrets.

“They’re frauds,” said one longtime Republican strategist who has worked for major campaigns and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person’s job could be at risk for speaking negatively. “They claim to be fiscal conservatives, but they’ve made a living off of generating conservative outrage in order to raise money for themselves.”

CPI and its affiliates are more than just a safe harbor: The network and its employees are a continued source of false vote fraud allegations, and produce and amplify defensive messaging in conservative circles responding to the major revelations of the Jan. 6 hearings.

Rudy Giuliani, Lindsey Graham, John Eastman and several others in the former president’s orbit were subpoenaed in the election meddling inquiry.

[Excerpts:]

Seven advisers and allies of Donald J. Trump, including Rudolph W. Giuliani and Senator Lindsey Graham, were subpoenaed on Tuesday in the ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia of election interference by Mr. Trump and his associates. The move was the latest sign that the inquiry has entangled a number of prominent members of Mr. Trump’s orbit, and may cloud the future for the former president.

The subpoenas underscore the breadth of the investigation by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, which encompasses most of Atlanta. She is weighing a range of charges, according to legal filings, including racketeering and conspiracy, and her inquiry has encompassed witnesses from beyond the state. The latest round of subpoenas was reported earlier by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Fulton County investigation is one of several inquiries into efforts by Mr. Trump and his team to overturn the election, but it is the one that appears to put them in the greatest immediate legal jeopardy. A House committee continues to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. And there is an intensifying investigation by the Justice Department into a scheme to create slates of fake presidential electors in 2020.

Another prominent lawyer who received a subpoena, Cleta Mitchell, was on a Jan. 2, 2021, call that Mr. Trump made to Mr. Raffensperger where he asked him to find enough votes to reverse the state’s results. The subpoena to her said, “During the telephone call, the witness and others made allegations of widespread voter fraud in the November 2020 election in Georgia and pressured Secretary Raffensperger to take action in his official capacity to investigate unfounded claims of fraud.”

 [Boldface added]

 

Watch Video of John Fund and Cleta Mitchell Dumping on True the Vote/Catherine Engelbrecht

This video from Documented is something. More background here.

Inside Mark Meadows’s final push to keep Trump in power

The former congressman played a key role in Trump’s effort to overturn the election, according to his texts, congressional investigations and interviews

[Excerpt:]

In the months leading up to the 2020 election, Meadows brought into Trump’s circle a parade of lawyers and other backers who believed the election might have been stolen.

Among them was Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who served as counsel for the Right Women, a political action committee run by Meadows’s wife, Debra. That group’s support helped elect some of the most pro-Trump members of Congress, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.). Mitchell was also friends with Ginni Thomas, another Meadows ally. Mitchell declined to comment. Ginni Thomas could not be reached for comment

Mitchell, in a radio interview that aired in February 2021, said that she told Trump and Meadows in September 2020, “I thought that there was going to be a massive effort to steal the election.

The day after the election, Meadows called Mitchell and asked her to go to Georgia, where Trump’s initial lead was shrinking as Democrat-heavy absentee ballots were counted. Ginni Thomas, meanwhile, urged Meadows to listen to what Mitchell was saying, texting him a few days after the election to allege that “Biden and the Left is attempting the great Heist of our History.”

“I will stand firm,” Meadows responded a minute later. “We will fight until there is no fight left.”

But on Dec. 1, 2020, Attorney General William P. Barr personally told him to drop the fight, according to Barr’s account in his memoir, “One Damned Thing After Another. In an Oval Office meeting, Barr told the president, as Meadows sat across from him, “We have looked at the major claims your people are making, and they are bulls—.

 

Lest we forget . . .
  • Cleta Mitchell: “Forget that pesky Constitution…happy to be considered a nut job because I believe in the rule of law.”  forbes.com, Jan. 25, 2021
  • Cleta Mitchell, a key figure in President Trump’s Georgia phone call  with Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, was an early backer of Trump’s election fraud claims.  Her role had escalated to the point that when President Trump on Saturday made a last-ditch phone call to get Raffensperger to “find” thousands of votes for him, it was the Washington-based Mitchell who emerged as a key player. washingtonpostJan. 4, 2021
  • “Cleta Mitchell has been quietly helping President Trump’s attempt to subvert the election results when the recording of him pressuring Georgia elections officials was revealed.” nytimes.com, Jan. 5, 2021
  • AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s made-up claims of fake Georgia votes, apnews.com, Jan. 3, 2021
  • “CPAC 2021 announced the addition of featured speaker Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative lawyer who, as one of the former president’s attorneys, was on the Jan. 2 hour-long phone call when Trump urged Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn the state’s presidential results. Earlier this month, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office announced it had formally launched an investigation into Trump’s phone calls to state election officials. abcnews.go.com, Feb. 24, 2021
  • Last month [January 2021], veteran political attorney Cleta Mitchell was forced to resign as a partner at the prominent Washington-based firm Foley & Lardner after it became clear she had secretly aided former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, in violation of the firm’s policy.
  • It’s been a rough few months for Mitchell: The firebrand conservative activist and political lawyer was listed as an officer on a nonprofit run by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, which is now part of a federal fraud investigation.
  • Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, a friend and client of Mitchell’s, has attracted legal scrutiny for allegedly misusing political contributions.
  • Shortly after Mitchell’s departure from Foley & Lardner, the firm appears to have taken steps to resolve newly-discovered issues with its own super PAC.
  • One phone call with Donald Trump destroyed this Republican lawyer’s career: Veteran GOP attorney Cleta Mitchell was forced to resign after taking part in Trump’s infamous Georgia call. [Boldface added]
  • salon.com, Feb. 23, 2021

Former Trump adviser takes prominent role in voting battle

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI

March 28, 2021

https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-donald-trump-georgia-elections-campaigns-8ea24e5b4c240aceec71fbfa703d0394

Cleta Mitchell has taken the helm of two separate efforts to push for tighter state voting laws and to fight Democratic efforts to expand access to the ballot at the federal level. She is also advising state lawmakers crafting the voting restriction proposals. And, she said Friday, she is in regular

Mitchell’s new prominence tightens the ties between the former president, who has falsely insisted he lost the election due to fraud, and the GOP-led state voting overhaul that has helped turn a foundational principle of democracy into a partisan battleground.

Read More

Trump’s false claims of fraud have fueled a wave of new voting restrictions. More than 250 proposed voting restrictions have been proposed this year by mostly Republican lawmakers, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. On Thursday, Georgia’s GOP governor signed into law a measure requiring voters to present ID to vote by mail, gives the GOP-controlled state legislature new powers over local elections boards and outlaws providing food or water to people waiting in line to vote. Biden on Friday condemned it as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”

In response, Democrats have stepped up the push for a massive federal election overhaul bill. That proposal, known as H.R. 1, would effectively neuter state-level voter ID laws, allow anyone to vote by mail if they wanted to and automatically register citizens to vote. Republicans view that as an encroachment on state control over elections and say it is designed to give Democrats an advantage.

“The left is trying to dismantle 100 years of advancement in election administration,” Mitchell said, expressing bafflement at Democrats’ charges that Republicans are trying to suppress votes. “We’re watching two different movies right now.”

Mitchell’s most public involvement in the voting wars came in participation on Trump’s call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2. During that call, Mitchell insisted she had evidence of voting fraud, but officials with the secretary of state’s office told her that her data was incorrect. 

The call is part of an investigation by the Fulton County District Attorney’s office into whether Trump or others improperly tried to influence election officials. Mitchell would not discuss the call or the investigation.

Mitchell’s involvement caused an outcry in the legal community and led to her departure from her longtime job at the law firm Foley & Lardner. But Mitchell says that has been a blessing.

“One of the great advantages of resigning from my law firm is that I can devote all my time to something I love,” she said.

Mitchell has two new roles in an emerging conservative voting operation. She’s running a $10 million initiative at the limited government group FreedomWorks to both push for new restrictions in voting and help train conservatives to get involved in the nuts and bolts of local elections. She’s also a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization run by former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. She says she’ll use that role to “coordinate” conservative voting positions, particularly in opposition to H.R. 1.

A onetime Oklahoma state legislator, Mitchell, 70, has links to other influential players in the conservative movement. Until recently she served as outside counsel to the American Legislative Exchange Committee, a conservative group that provides model legislation to state lawmakers and organized a call with state lawmakers and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on opposing H.R. 1.

And Mitchell said she’s been talking regularly with Republican state lawmakers about the need for new election laws. She would not identify whom she speaks with but said it’s been a longtime passion.

“I’ve been working with state legislatures for several years to get them to pay attention to what I call the political process,” Mitchell said. “I love legislatures and working with legislators.”

She similarly would not detail her conversations with Trump or say whether they involved the new voting fights. “I’m in touch with the president fairly frequently,” she said of Trump.

Repeated audits have shown no significant problems with the 2020 election. Trump and his supporters lost more than 50 court cases challenging its results. 

Mitchell says she believes the courts used legal trickery to avoid ever truly addressing Trump’s allegations of voter fraud. 

That evidence had made some conservative groups careful not to echo Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, even as they argue for tighter restrictions on which Americans vote. 

Mitchell’s role could complicate that effort to keep a distance.

“I have concerns with the election but I do not think the election was stolen,” said Noah Wall, executive vice president of FreedomWorks. However, Wall said he saw no conflict in working with Mitchell. “When we talk about what we’re going to be focused on, I don’t see any daylight between her issues and ours,” Wall said.

Mitchell has a long history in the conservative movement, with positions on the boards of the National Rifle Association and the Bradley Foundation. She represented Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, and has been the campaign attorney for several Republican senators. She also is chair of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative election law project that she said may get involved in litigation against H.R. 1, should it pass, or in support of new laws like the one in Georgia. 

 

The Big Money behind the Big Lie

August 2, 2021

By Jane Meyer

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/09/the-big-money-behind-the-big-lie

Excerpt:

According to some surveys, a third of Americans now believe that Biden was illegitimately elected, and nearly half of Trump supporters agree that Republican legislators should overturn the results in some states that Biden won. Jonathan Rauch, of the Brookings Institution, recently told The Economist, “We need to regard what’s happening now as epistemic warfare by some Americans on other Americans.” Pillars of the conservative establishment, faced with a changing U.S. voter population that threatens their agenda, are exploiting Trump’s contempt for norms to devise ways to hold on to power. Senator Whitehouse said of the campaign, “It’s a massive covert operation run by a small group of billionaire élites. These are powerful interests with practically unlimited resources who have moved on to manipulating that most precious of American gifts—the vote.”

An animating force behind the Bradley Foundation’s war on “election fraud” is Cleta Mitchell, a fiercely partisan Republican election lawyer, who joined the organization’s board of directors in 2012. Until recently, she was virtually unknown to most Americans. But, on January 3rd, the Washington Post exposed the contents of a private phone call, recorded the previous day, during which Trump threatened election officials in Georgia with a “criminal offense” unless they could “find” 11,780 more votes for him—just enough to alter the results. Also on the call was Mitchell, who challenged the officials to provide records proving that dead people hadn’t cast votes. The call was widely criticized as a rogue effort to overturn the election, and Foley & Lardner, the Milwaukee-based law firm where Mitchell was a partner, announced that it was “concerned” about her role, and then parted ways with her. Trump’s call prompted the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, to begin a criminal investigation.

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On behalf of Republican candidates and groups, she began to fight limits on campaign spending. She also represented numerous right-wing nonprofits, including the National Rifle Association, whose board she joined in the early two-thousands. A former N.R.A. official recently told the Guardian that Mitchell was the “fringe of the fringe,” and a Republican voting-rights lawyer said that “she tells clients what they want to hear, regardless of the law or reality.”

[Boldface added}

In our conversations, Mitchell mocked what she called the mainstream media’s “narrative” of a “vast right-wing conspiracy to suppress the vote of Black people,” and insisted that the fraud problem was significant. “I actually think your readers need to hear from people like me—believe it or not, there are tens of millions of us,” she wrote. “We are not crazy. At least not to us. We are intelligent and educated people who are very concerned about the future of America. And we are among the vast majority of Americans who support election-integrity measures.” Echoing what has become the right’s standard talking point, she declared that her agenda for elections is “to make it harder to cheat.”

Few experts have found Mitchell’s evidence convincing. On November 12, 2020, the Trump Administration’s own election authorities declared the Presidential vote to be “the most secure in American history.” It is true that in many American elections there are small numbers of questionable ballots. An Associated Press investigation found that, in 2020, a hundred and eighty-two of the 3.4 million ballots cast in Arizona were problematic. Four of the ballots have led to criminal charges. But the consensus among nonpartisan experts is that the amount of fraud, particularly in major races, is negligible. As Phil Keisling, a former secretary of state in Oregon, who pioneered universal voting by mail, has said, “Voters don’t cast fraudulent ballots for the same reason counterfeiters don’t manufacture pennies—it doesn’t pay.”

Last year, a Reuters report characterized Mitchell as one of four lawyers leading the conservative war on “election fraud,” and described True the Vote as one of the movement’s hubs. The story linked the group and three other conservative nonprofits to at least sixty-one election lawsuits since 2012. Reuters noted that, during the same period, the four groups, along with two others devoted to election-integrity issues, have received more than three and a half million dollars from the Bradley Foundation.

It’s a surprisingly short leap from making accusations of voter fraud to calling for the nullification of a supposedly tainted election. The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group funded by the Bradley Foundation, is leading the way. Based in Indiana, it has become a prolific source of litigation; in the past year alone, it has brought nine election-law cases in eight states. It has amassed some of the most visible lawyers obsessed with election fraud, including Mitchell, who is its chair and sits on its board.

 

Cleta Mitchell Helped Set Up Escrow Account to Funnel $1 Million to Support Sham Arizona Audit

September 3, 2021, 4:04 pmchicaneryfraudulent fraud squadRICK HASEN

Arizona Republic:

A prominent Republican attorney who advised President Donald Trump as he tried to overturn the 2020 election helped set up an escrow account to funnel money to companies working on the Arizona election audit.

Cleta Mitchell’s role came to light as The Arizona Republic combed through documents the state Senate released this week after a court order. The documents provide previously unknown details on payments to companies and people participating in audit work and link the audit even closer to Trump.

Mitchell, who gained national attention for advising Trump during his January call to Georgia election officials in which he asked them to find votes in his favor, arranged for $1 million to be sent from the escrow account in late July to three subcontractors working under Cyber Ninjas, the Senate’s lead contractor. 

This adds to the millions of dollars in outside funding that has paid for the months-long partisan review of Maricopa County’s ballots and voting machines. Republican leaders in the Senate ordered the unusual review that has been funded mainly by “Stop the Steal” advocates and Trump allies.

 

Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson

October 27, 2021

This morning, the Democratic majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a draft report of its investigation into Trump’s attempt to use the Department of Justice to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The report found that Trump repeatedly tried to get the DOJ to endorse his false claims that the election was stolen and to overturn its results, singling out nine specific attempts to change the outcome. Trump, the report says, “grossly abused the power of the presidency.”

The report points to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as a key player in the attempt to subvert the DOJ, and it singles out a number of other officials as participants in the pressure campaign. Those people include Jeffrey Bossert Clark from within the DOJ, whom Trump tried to install as acting attorney general to push his demands; Representative Scott Perry (R-PA); Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator from Pennsylvania; and Cleta Mitchell, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign. The draft report also notes that under Attorney General William Barr, the DOJ “deviated from longstanding practice” when it began to investigate allegations of fraud before the votes were certified.

The report concludes that the efforts to subvert the DOJ were part of Trump’s attempt “to retain the presidency by any means necessary,” a process that “without a doubt” “created the disinformation ecosystem necessary for Trump to incite almost 1000 Americans to breach the Capitol in a violent attempt to subvert democracy by stopping the certification of a free and fair election.” 

Today was also the deadline for four of Trump’s closest allies to turn over documents to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol and to schedule testimony. Former chief of staff Mark Meadows, social media manager Dan Scavino, adviser Steve Bannon, and former Defense Department official Kash Patel have until midnight tonight to contact the committee.

Trump’s lawyers wrote a letter telling the four men not to cooperate with the congressional subpoena. The letter claims that Trump is planning to contest the subpoenas on the basis of executive privilege. 

[Boldface added.]

 

How a lawyer who aided Trump’s 2020 subversion efforts was named to a federal election advisory board

“Voting Rights are under attack in America. There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”

— Representative John Lewis, on being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama, in February 2011.