In this Aug. 1, 2017 file photo, Vice President Mike Pence, left, attends a meeting with Georgia opposition leaders in Tbilisi, Georgia. Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Nick Ayers, is right. Zurab Kurtsikidze/Pool Photo via AP
Photo: Zurab Kurtsikidze/AP
Photo: Zurab Kurtsikidze/AP

The Jolt: By coming home, Nick Ayers cuts through a web of loyalties

As Donald Trump goes back to the drawing board in his search for a new top aide, Georgia operative Nick Ayers is preparing to head home – and launch his next venture.

Ayers had been the president’s top choice for chief of staff -- the New York Times reported a press release announcing his hire was even primed to go -- but the two men couldn’t come to terms over how long Ayers was to stay in the role and who he would bring along with him.

That means Ayers is headed back to Atlanta later this year, relinquishing his title as Vice President Mike Pence’s top adviser. We’re told one of his projects will involve a super PAC devoted to boosting Trump’s 2020 bid. But that’s not likely to be his only gig.

As for why Ayers wouldn’t want a top position in the West Wing, let’s start with the obvious. Working for a mercurial president with a history of trashing former aides is tough enough. Other than Nikki Haley, who is about to become the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it’s hard to point to anyone whose reputation has been unsullied in Trump’s service.

Add to that mix the ongoing investigations into whether Trump directed his lawyer to make illegal hush payments and whether his campaign helped coordinate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Both probes will intensify as Democrats take control of the U.S. House in January. That would have placed the entire weight of what could become a series of pre-impeachment inquiries squarely on the shoulders of a 36-year-old non-lawyer.

Then there are the more personal reasons. Ayers is father to three very young children, and being the president’s chief of staff is a 28-hours-a-day job.

Taking the gig would also subject Ayers to more scrutiny over how he amassed a fortune that tops at least $12 million. And that could complicate Ayers’ future political ambitions -- he flirted with a bid for governor last year.

But what no one has mentioned is the loyalty trap Ayers might have been caught up in as a former chief of staff for Pence, while serving as Trump’s First Defender. Especially if there’s truth to the scuttlebutt that the president has considered dumping his vice president for someone more helpful in a 2020 electoral college race.

It wouldn’t have been simply a matter of being torn between an old boss and the new one. Ayers has a third loyalty. By marriage and background, Ayers is a member of a Perdue clan that is now in control of Republican politics in Georgia. David and Sonny Perdue have agendas and ambitions of their own.

So for Ayers, coming home cuts through the Gordian web of obligations that was forming around him.

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At 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, members of the Senate Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Operations and Authority Creation Study Committee will gather for their fourth meeting.

This is the committee, chaired by Burt Jones, R-Jackson, looking into whether the city of Atlanta’s most cherished possession should be placed under state oversight.

The meeting might surprise those of you who remember that Senate Resolution 882, which authorized the inquiry, includes this line: “The committee shall stand abolished on December 1, 2018.”

We asked Jones about the expiration date. The senator said that, during the recent special session to appropriate funds for Hurricane Michael recovery, an informal consensus was reached within the Senate Republican caucus – that the committee’s work should continue.

Thursday’s hearing will feature Robert Highsmith, attorney for the city of Atlanta, explaining why placing the Atlanta airport under state auspices would be a bad idea.

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In researching an earlier post on the rise of apartment politics in north metro Atlanta, we spoke with Gabe Sterling, a Republican and former Sandy Springs councilman – who gave us a personal example of the granular, Democratic GOTV effort that proved so effective on Nov. 6:

“I had just bought a new home in September from an African-American couple. I was in my driveway on Election Day, and I see a black SUV pull up. And it has a Lucy McBath push card in the window. I find it kind of odd, but I’m not paying too much attention to it. I’m pacing and talking [on the phone].

“The person sits there for two or three or four minutes. And he finally gets out of the car. He looks at me. And I, of course, have Brian Kemp and Deborah Silcox signs in my front yard. He looks at me. He looks at his phone. He looks at me again.

“I finally put together what this is, and I said, ‘Oh, no, no. They moved.’ That was at three o’clock in the afternoon on Election Day. They were tracking to see who hadn’t shown up already.”

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Speaking of the Sixth Congressional District: Jon Ossoff, the Democrat who lost last year’s frenzied Sixth District contest to Republican Karen Handel, is holding a special event on Thursday far outside suburban Atlanta’s confines. 

The investigative journalist is kicking off a 6:30 p.m. town hall meeting at the Cornelia Public Library. The Habersham County Democratic Party event will delve into “politics, policy and current events.”

Ossoff hasn’t ruled out a Democratic bid for U.S. Senate in 2020, though he’s also encouraged Stacey Abrams to run. Find the details here. 
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New legislation being pushed by Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill would bamembers of Congress from trading stocks while in office, a response to the ethics questions that dogged former Georgia congressman Tom Price after he was nominated to be Trump’s health chief. 

The proposal, from Jeff Merkley of Oregon and potential 2020 presidential candidate Sherrod Brown of Ohio, takes a strict approach to avoiding potential conflicts of interest. Not only would it bar lawmakers and senior congressional staffers from buying or selling stocks in industries they regulate, but it would prohibit them from making stock investments of any kind while in office. 

Democrats grilled Price over his health-related stock trades during his Senate confirmation hearings. They argued he might have received insider information from one of his colleagues, New York Republican Chris Collins, and also traded health stocks while helping write major pieces of health care legislation. Collins was later indicted on charges of insider trading.

Members of Congress are allowed to trade stocks, but a 2012 law made it illegal to do so using non-public information generated by pending legislation. It’s relatively common for lawmakers to own stocks, although many have put their assets into blind trusts. A notable Georgia exception is U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who actively continues to trade individual stocks, according to his financial disclosure forms. 

The Merkley-Brown bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the Republican- controlled Senate. 

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