The Jolt: Loeffler supporters celebrate news of closed investigation

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who took office in early January, received committee assignments that create ethical dilemmas for the newly appointed lawmaker. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who took office in early January, received committee assignments that create ethical dilemmas for the newly appointed lawmaker. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

<i>News and analysis from the AJC politics team</i>

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her supporters took a victory lap Tuesday at the news that the Justice Department closed its investigation of her stock portfolio. Her critics said it was far from put to rest.

The celebration by Loeffler’s camp started shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported that she and two other senators — Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Dianne Feinstein of California — were no longer under federal scrutiny for possible insider trading.

"Happy to see vindication for@KLoeffler. She handled the inquiry with complete transparency," wrote former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Twitter. "Proud of how she continues to serve the people of Georgia honorably."

Her press team sent out exclamatory GIFs. Her spokesman channeled President Donald Trump: "CLEAR EXONERATION. TOTAL WITCH HUNT. THANK YOU!"

Loeffler’s main Democratic adversaries were largely silent. But U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, her most formidable Republican opponent, signaled he would continue to make the transactions made on Loeffler’s behalf a focus of his attack.

“When the pandemic was lapping at American shores, Kelly Loeffler sprang into action to help herself,” said Chip Lake, Collins’ senior strategist.

Loeffler's portfolio attracted scrutiny when a large number of stocks that she or her husband owned were sold off shortly after she attended a senators-only briefing on the coronavirus on Jan. 24.

She said that the meeting included no private information and all stock trading is handled by financial advisers who act independently and without her input. Loeffler has since directed those consultants to sell off nearly all the stocks she owns in individual companies.

The scrutiny was seen as one of the reasons for Loeffler’s sliding numbers in a string of internal Republican polls, and her campaign relished the chance to go on the offensive against the four-term congressman.

“Just like that, Doug Collins’ entire campaign platform completely vanished,” said Stephen Lawson, a Loeffler aide.

“Now the fake conservative who voted with Stacey Abrams and Nancy Pelosi yet refused to support President Trump in the 2016 primary will have to run on his record - and that’s really bad news for him.”

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House Minority Leader Bob Trammell's ears must be ringing.

The Republican State Leadership Committee said it was zeroing in on Democratic-held Georgia House districts that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 ahead of the November election.

It promised “robust in-state earned media and digital campaigns” aimed at four incumbents - Mary Robichaux of Roswell, Angelika Kausche of Johns Creek, Gregg Kennard of Lawrenceville and Trammell of Luthersville.

The GOP group singled out Trammell as a “top target” weeks after it funneled $100,000 to its state apparatus. In a filing documenting that transaction, the group included a $2,800 contribution to Republican David Jenkins, the former U.S. Army helicopter pilot challenging Trammell.

“Democrats’ gains in Georgia over the last several years is no fluke — this is truly a swing state and we need to be ready to fight like hell this fall,” said Austin Chambers, the Georgia operative who now leads the national group.

“If state Republicans don’t take this threat seriously, Democrats’ dreams of a blue Georgia could quickly morph into reality,” said Chambers, adding that the group plans to do “whatever it takes to win.”

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Two of Georgia's most prominent business groups are encouraging state lawmakers to adopt a hate crimes law when the legislative session resumes next month.

The heads of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce issued a rare joint statement calling for the “swift passage of hate crimes legislation that aligns our state’s law with our values” when legislators return after a months-long pandemic delay.

Their statement noted that the Georgia House already passed a hate crime bill in 2019 via a bipartisan vote. "Recent support from statewide leaders further demonstrates that momentum is growing for Georgia to join the 45 other states that already have these laws on the books," it said.

The Georgia Association of Chief of Police, Democratic leaders and several of the state's most powerful Republicans have also spoken in support of the legislation. The shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia has reignited their campaign.

House Speaker David Ralston has said he would “challenge and implore” Senate lawmakers to pass the hate crimes bill already adopted by his chamber, House Bill 426, “with no delay and no amendments” when the session resumes in June.

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So far, U.S. Rep. John Lewis is the only member of Congress from Georgia who has signed up to take advantage of a temporary rule allowing proxy votes for the first time in this body's history. Lewis says U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan has agreed to submit votes on his behalf.

Undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, Lewis has not been participating in in-person voting with colleagues during the coronavirus pandemic. We could see the first votes cast by proxy as soon as today.

However, Republicans have filed a lawsuit challenging this change to voting procedures as unconstitutional. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, of Monroe, is among the 20 GOP representatives who signed on as plaintiffs.

"It's pretty simple: Members of Congress need to be present to vote," Hice said in a tweet about the lawsuit.

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A nation criminal justice task force led by Former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is suggesting a range of changes to federal sentencing and other laws, the AJC's Bill Rankin reports.

The most notable is a call for the elimination of mandatory-minimum sentences for drug crimes. The task force also asks for the establishment of a “second look” provision that allows people serving lengthy sentences — many of whom are elderly and infirm — to seek sentencing reductions from a federal judge.

The “Next Steps” report, released Wednesday by the Council on Criminal Justice, was submitted by a task force chaired by Deal since June 2019. The bipartisan group’s members include former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates; Mark Holden, retired general counsel of Koch Industries; former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; and David Safavian of the American Conservative Union.

“As the task force wraps up its work, I am filled with optimism,” Deal wrote in an introductory letter. “The harsh political rhetoric of the past has softened, replaced by possibilities for progress on an issue that once was so divisive. Reform won’t be easy, but we can and must use this pivotal moment in time to work for a more fair and effective federal system that provides safety and justice for all.”

As governor, Deal spearheaded similar changes in the state's criminal justice system that led Georgia to become an example for others.

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In endorsement news:

Tea Party Express, which calls itself the nation's largest tea party PAC, supports Dr. Rich McCormick in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.

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Meet Insiders Greg Bluestein, Jim Galloway and Tia Mitchell and hear the latest election news, what congressional and legislative races to watch – plus, we’ll answer your questions about state and local politics.

The town hall will stream live this evening from 5-6 p.m. We encourage you to register (it's free) at AJC.com/conversation.

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