Roger Stone, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, exits a federal courthouse on Jan. 25 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Mr. Stone was charged by special counsel Robert Mueller of obstruction, giving false statements and witness tampering. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Jolt: Doug Collins makes Twitter debut as a top Donald Trump defender in Congress

Doug Collins just made his formal Twitter debut as President Donald Trump’s chief defender in the U.S. House.

On Wednesday, the Gainesville Republican put his signature on a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray – who also hails from metro Atlanta, demanding answers for the use of force in last week’s arrest of Roger Stone.

The longtime Trump confidante, who was charged with lying about his pursuit of Russian-hacked emails damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election bid, was arrested by the FBI in a pre-dawn raid at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

CNN aired video of the raid, which showed agents in body armor brandishing large weapons and night-vision equipment, running up to the home and banging on the door.

With the Democratic takeover of the House, Collins became the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee – a position that in essence makes him Trump’s chief defender in that chamber, particularly on issues related to the Robert Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential contest.

On Wednesday evening, Collins made public the three-page letter he sent to Wray, along with this Twitter message:

Although none of the 7 charges against Stone is considered to be a violent crime, the FBI demonstrated an immense show of force during an early-morning raid on Stone’s home ... approximately 2 dozen FBI agents wearing tactical gear swept across Stone’s law wielding M4 rifles-Why?

In the letter, Collins said the force deployed to seize Stone resembled a “’knock and arrest’ warrant on a meth lab.” Among the congressman’s many questions was whether the FBI tipped off media about the arrest. (CNN has said it had staked out Stone’s house based on courthouse deductions.) More from the Collins letter:

“Given the fact that the FBI is embroiled in a scandal related to the origins of this investigation, we are perplexed about why the FBI would use such a show of force in the arrest of an elderly man.

“In contrast, when Senator Robert Menendez, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, was indicted on 14 counts – including, like Stone, for false statements and other non-violent crimes – Menendez’s attorneys and federal officials discussed plans for Menendez to voluntarily surrender to authorities.”

Collins’ demands were part of a coordinated effort. On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of that chamber’s judiciary committee, also said he wants a briefing from the FBI on the tactics it used last week.

And that afternoon, in an interview with the Daily Caller, President Trump said this about the force used to collar Stone:

“I’m speaking for a lot of people that were very disappointed to see that go down that way. To see it happen where it was on camera, on top of it. That was a very, very disappointing scene.”

***

Call it high-level trolling. Or tactical triangulation. Whatever it was, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan meant to send a message to the other side of the state Capitol late Wednesday when he tweeted his opposition to the so-called “Netflix tax.”

The newly-elected Senate leader said he shared Gov. Brian Kemp’s concern with the legislation, which would levy a 4 percent tax on some communications services to subsidize internet access for rural areas.

“I agree with @GovKemp, we're going to build out rural broadband, but a new @netflix tax is not how we're going to do it,” wrote Duncan.

Policy may have been only one element. Duncan’s jab came a day after House members ridiculed the Senate for failing to show up for work after a predicted winter storm didn’t materialize.

House Speaker David Ralston has vowed to bring better broadband connection to rural Georgia. A study committee appointed by the speaker last year suggested the tax on downloaded material as a way to make that happen. 

In a GPB interview that aired Tuesday, Kemp said he was troubled by the idea of raising new taxes to fulfill his own campaign promise to 

“My first inclination is not to look at tax increases to pay for this,” the governor said. 

“If we’re going to have some sort of offset, I’d be open to looking at that. I don’t know that raising taxes is the answer for me.”

***

We have a correction to make: At a Buckhead Coalition luncheon on Wednesday, Gov. Brian Kemp noted that he drove - rather than walked - to his first meeting with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at Atlanta City Hall. 

That meeting was seen as symbolic because Kemp visited Bottoms in her offices, rather than vice versa, after the two clashed during a highly-partisan campaign.

***

Our AJC colleague Meris Lutz reports that Cobb County’s legislative delegation ended with a walk-out by Democrats on Wednesday, during a fight over who would lead the group:

The delegation recently flipped from majority Republican to majority Democrat after November’s suburban ‘blue wave,’ and Democrats had agreed on a slate of nominees going into the meeting, said State Sen. Jen Jordan. 

At the top of their list for chair was State Rep. David Wilkerson. But just after his nomination, Republicans put forward their own candidate: Democratic State Sen. Michael Rhett. 

 Jordan accused Rhett of cutting a “side deal” with Republicans to “circumvent the slate that had been decided by the Democrats.” 

 She said the walkout was intended to buy time while the Democrats regroup to decide their next step.

In the absence of a decision, state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, remains chairman of the group, Lutz reported.

But Wilkerson has contacted us with an alternative ending. Cobb’s delegation is a combination of House and Senate members. Representatives of the two chambers could split, which would result in two competing bodies.

***

On another local front: Zahra Karinshak, D-Duluth, has been named chair of Gwinnett County’s senate delegation. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, will be vice chair. Gwinnett’s delegation switched from GOP to Democratic control in November.

***

On Wednesday, state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, introduced her version of a measure that would ask the Legislature to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first approved by Congress in 1972.

Her bill was a duplicate of one filed earlier this week by state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. The difference? Orrock’s bill had the signatures of two Republicans: Unterman and state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta.

Unterman’s bill has been signed by eight Senate Republicans.

You have to be of a certain age to appreciate this shift. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, the Equal Rights Amendment was the litmus test on gender issues. President Ronald Reagan opposed it. His daughter Maureen supported it.

The state Legislature, ruled by a Democratic party much more conservative than today, refused to ratify it. It was feared that this stance would jeopardize the city’s bid for the ’88 Democratic National Convention. (It didn’t.)

The eight GOP senators who have signed the Unterman bill: The author; Kirkpatrick; John Albers of Roswell; Brandon Beach of Alpharetta; P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville; Matt Brass of Newnan; Burt Jones of Jackson; and Chuck Hufstetler of Rome.

Note that Albers, Beach and Martin all hail from north metro Atlanta, scene of much Republican carnage in last November’s election. Albers and Martin both could be vulnerable to anti-Trump sentiment in 2020. Beach has already announced that he’ll challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, in an attempt to reclaim the Sixth District.

In this climate, it would be difficult, even foolish, to run against a female incumbent without first endorsing the concept of equal pay for equal work.

***

Speaking of Brandon Beach: On Wednesday, he introduced a bill “to help to create thousands of jobs, bolster rural development and supplement education funding while boosting Georgia’s equine industry.”

Yup, he’s making another stab at making horse racing legal in Georgia. From the press release:

“This weekend, Georgia will host the pinnacle of football with Super Bowl LIII, as our state has clearly become a destination for events of the highest magnitude,” said Beach. “With the passage of the Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act, communities across the state will see new economic development, greater agribusiness success, millions of dollars in investment, as well as opportunities to host pinnacle equine events, including the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

Notice the title of his bill. It’s intended to blend in with other efforts aimed at bringing back rural Georgia. We’ve got more details for you here.

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