Trump adviser funnels outside money through escrow account into the Arizona election audit

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, which has been funded mainly by "Stop the Steal" advocates and Trump allies.

Results from the review, which ran from April to July, are expected soon.

The documents don't clarify where the $1 million came from, but audit spokesperson Randy Pullen told The Republic it was separate from the nearly $5.7 million in outside donations that Cyber Ninjas announced in July.

The Senate launched the audit with an agreement to pay $150,000 to Cyber Ninjas and other security and facility costs.

It's unclear whether the three subcontractors paid through the escrow account — CyFIR, StratTech and Wake TSI — also received money from Cyber Ninjas.

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Mitchell solicited donations for the escrow account, Pullen said. Trump did not pay into the account, he said. He refused to say who did.

In March, just weeks before the audit began, Mitchell told The Associated Press that she was in constant contact with Trump as she pushed state lawmakers to enact tighter voting laws.

Mitchell and Cyber Ninjas did not respond to The Republic's requests for comment.

Mitchell's connections help to raise money

Pullen, a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, said he has known Mitchell for 20 years and "indirectly" helped get her involved. He knew she was well-connected and well-respected among Republicans.

"A lot of the big donors trust her," he said.

In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, Cleta Mitchell testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. A key figure in former President Donald Trump's campaign to overturn the 2020 elections results is now playing a central role advising and coordinating the movement to tighten voting laws across the country. Mitchell, a long-time GOP lawyer, is advising state lawmakers on voting law and strategy, leading one advocacy campaign and advising others and is also in regular contact with Trump.

It appears the money paid to the companies may be coming from a group called American Voting Rights Foundation, although it's not clear who gave money to that group, who is involved in the group or what it is. The foundation does not show up as a registered nonprofit, perhaps because it is new.

In one of the emails released, Mitchell tells Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, Pullen and Thomas Datwyler that the money will be wired "from American Voting Rights Foundation" to the three companies.

In the emails, Mitchell says that Datwyler, who has served as a campaign finance manager for prominent Republicans in Congress, is the treasurer of the organization.

Datwyler, who lives in Wisconsin, said in a phone interview he was “just the accountant” and was a contractor for the American Voting Rights Foundation. He said he could not speak about the work or goals of the foundation, which he said was created in June.

Asked about Mitchell, Datwyler said he “had not communicated with her about this,” though records show he was copied on messages from her directing money to different contractors working on the audit. 

Datwyler sent the following funds to the companies on July 29:

  • $500,000 to CyFir, a Virginia-based technology company that was charged with evaluating the county's voting machines.
  • Some amount up to $250,000 to Wake TSI, a Pennsylvania-based technology company that ran the hand recount and examination of ballots for the first few weeks of the audit.
  • $250,000 to StratTech, a Scottsdale-based technology company that took over for Wake on the hand recount and ballot examination.

That Cyber Ninjas' subcontractors were paid through the escrow account raises the question of what Cyber Ninjas paid with the $5.7 million in outside donations it received.

Pullen said that Cyber Ninjas covered the costs of buying technology needed for the audit, which exceeded $2 million.

Other documents released this week may offer more clues. 

A partial spreadsheet sent to Pullen via text on July 13 by someone listed as "Joyce H" appears to break down $3.3 million in audit costs, although it's unclear whether Cyber Ninjas covered those costs. Among the line items were:

  • $171,462 for counting support.
  • $30,271 for litigation support.
  • $36,320 for operational support.
  • $246,816 for project expenses.
  • $931,960 for computer forensics.
  • $81,351 for recruiting.
  • $1.85 million for “counting/PE execution."

Pullen said that Mitchell approved the money coming out of the account, although someone else "had control of it."

Mitchell helps Trump with election battle, audit

Mitchell was advising Trump shortly after the election, according to national media reports.

While Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell were the public faces of Trump's campaign to try to overturn the election or stop the certification of the election results, Mitchell helped him for weeks behind the scenes, according to The New York Times. 

On Fox News just days after the November election, Mitchell said that she and others were “building that case” that noncitizens, dead people and out-of-state residents were voting. Such claims were later made by Trump and his legal team.

Mitchell then participated in the January call in which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” thousands of votes that would flip the state’s electoral votes for Trump instead of Joe Biden. On that call, Mitchell alleged voter fraud and complained that elections officials were not turning over relevant documents.

For the Arizona audit team, Mitchell was "very helpful in coordinating and making connections and working through all the details," Pullen said.

Pullen said that in the years he has known her, Mitchell has been a "very solid great person."

Mitchell is a former Democrat who served eight years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1974 to 1984. 

In the decades since holding public office, Mitchell has been tied to several conservative groups and more recently to Trump’s orbit.  

She represented the influential National Rifle Association and American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts conservative model legislation for lawmakers across the country. The New Yorker explored Mitchell's involvement with the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which has provided funding to a network of nonprofit giants advocating for stricter voting laws — groups that for years have been stoking fears of election fraud.

Mitchell is not herself a big political spender — although she did contribute $250 toward state Rep. Shawnna Bolick’s election two days before the November 2020 election, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's website.

During this year's legislative session, Bolick, R-Phoenix, gained notoriety for sponsoring an unsuccessful bill that would have allowed lawmakers to overturn voters’ choices in presidential elections. Bolick is now running for secretary of state, an office whose duties include certifying election results.

Bolick's campaign spokesperson said Bolick has "a wide range of small dollar donors who support her because of her leadership on protecting our elections."

"Many of her past donors, including Cleta, share this passion and have been personal friends for years," the spokesperson said. "This should surprise no one."

Money ensures managers get paid

The money from the escrow account to Wake TSI appears to have helped resolve a dispute between the company and Cyber Ninjas.

Wake TSI hired the original floor managers that ran the hand count and ballot inspection in Veterans Memorial Coliseum from late April until mid-May. The company left May 14, the audit's originally expected end date, and Scottsdale-based StratTech took over.

Audit insiders at the time told The Republic that the managers who had worked for Wake had not been paid. That was confirmed this week as one of the released documents was a settlement agreement between Wake and Cyber Ninjas.

Pullen said that while Cyber Ninjas had paid Wake, Wake had not paid the managers that would be paid under the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement mentions that Wake was still claiming Cyber Ninjas owed the company some money — perhaps because the original estimated costs of the audit exceeded expectations outlined in the original contract.

Wake did not return a call or respond to an email requesting comment.

It appears from the documents that Mitchell and Pennsylvania-based attorney Scott Sigman helped arrange the agreement. The workers, Sigman explained, would agree to be paid a certain amount from the escrow account, and Wake would credit Cyber Ninjas for any amount paid “against what they claim Cyber owes them."

At least 41 people who had worked in April and May still needed to be paid at least $270,000 as of late July, according to the documents. In early August, the escrow account started mailing checks.

Reach the reporter at or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield