A prominent conservative attorney who attended a White House event linked to a cluster of COVID-19 infections was the featured speaker days later at a conference fighting to restrict mail-in voting.
Cleta Mitchell, a partner in the politically connected law firm Foley & Lardner, was photographed without a face mask and failing to social distance at both the Sept. 26 White House event celebrating the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and the FreedomWorks “Election Protection Summit” that began on Friday with a reception.
At the Rose Garden event, Mitchell sat in the row behind former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and was seen with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. Both have since tested positive for the coronavirus. Mitchell also was photographed near Attorney General William Barr, who has gone into self-quarantine.
Still, Mitchell attended the weekend FreedomWorks conference in Washington and was a key speaker. She told HuffPost that she first heard that Conway and Christie had tested positive as the conference was winding down on Saturday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people exposed to COVID-19 to isolate themselves for 14 days. FreedomWorks did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Events like the Rose Garden celebration and the FreedomWorks conference threaten to extend the reach of the coronavirus as it spreads through the upper reaches of the GOP, sickening President Donald Trump, members of his administration and at least three senators. Mitchell’s connection to both events was first reported by Wisconsin watchdog group Documented, which probes corporate influence on public policy.
At least 17 people who either attended the White House event or were in contact with guests have since been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, on Monday called the Rose Garden ceremony the kind of “dangerous situation” medical officials have long warned could become a COVID-19 superspreader event.
Mitchell is not the only person at the White House event who later attended another major gathering.
Trump attended a fundraiser at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday, even after knowing his close aide Hope Hicks had tested positive. Early the next morning he announced that he and the first lady had also tested positive.
Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson took a COVID test on the way to a fundraising event in his state on Friday and said he found out later it was positive. Johnson wasn’t at the Rose Garden event, but took the test after learning that fellow Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tested positive after attending the Barrett celebration.
Mitchell has played a prominent role in President Donald Trump’s battle to suppress voting by mail. No one was “being cavalier about COVID-19,” at the Rose Garden event, Mitchell told The Bakersfield Californian last week.
Photos and videos of the FreedomWorks Election Protection Summit showed few attendees following face mask and social distancing health guidelines. Right-wing radio host Sebastian Gorka, who also spoke at the event, posed maskless for photos with his arms around participants. FreedomWorks said about 80 people attended.
Mitchell told HuffPost that she thought she wore a mask at the conference, except during her speech and while eating. The photo below, from a video of the reception, shows her without a mask, near other maskless attendees.
On Monday, Mitchell participated in a FreedomWorks remote group press conference that also included Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). She attacked voting by mail and “the left,” and suggested that if the president can get COVID-19, anyone can.
“Frankly, we have to live our lives and go on with business ... people are going to get COVID, as we see,” she said. The coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S.
FreedomWorks, a partisan nonprofit working against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, hosted the summit to organize activists against mail-in ballots.
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