Former U.S. senator Sam Nunn in a 2015 AJC file photo Kent D. Johnson/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: Kent D. Johnson/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: Kent D. Johnson/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

The Jolt: Sam Nunn still second-guesses himself over Clarence Thomas

Several hundred of the people who once made Georgia tick gathered at the Historic Academy of Medicine on West Peachtree last Friday to celebrate Sam Nunn’s 80th birthday.

The all-day affair was a sober one. The offered toast was consummated with small bottles of Coke Zero, and the day concluded with a massive dose of ice cream sundaes – official recognition of two vices that the former U.S. senator still allots himself.

Nunn’s career as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee was thoroughly reviewed, as was his second career heading up the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The afternoon featured a father-daughter Q&A session with Michelle Nunn, who lost a 2014 contest for her dad’s old seat in Congress and is now president and CEO of Care USA.

All of this happened as it was becoming clear that, in Washington, the U.S. Senate would confirm the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Nunn mostly stayed away from the topic, though several times he decried the elimination of America’s political middle. However, when his daughter asked whether he regretted any of the 12,000 votes he cast during his Senate career, Nunn said this:

“One of the ones that was most questionable, and I still question myself, was the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. I’ve second-guessed myself a lot on that – while I was voting and since then.”

Thomas was confirmed in 1991, over Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment.

On a less serious note: Since leaving the Senate in 1997, Nunn has allowed himself to be much funnier, and regaled his afternoon audience with stories about his entrance into Washington society – at the height of the Watergate investigation that would ultimately topple President Richard Nixon.

“I got invited to the White House, probably, more in my first year and a half than I did the rest of my career. I thought you went to state dinners on a weekly basis,” Nunn said. And then the former senator offered this tale:

“During one of the crucial parts of the Watergate investigation, [Nixon] called about four of us to come down and have coffee with him late in the afternoon. Hubert Humphrey was one. He was just a marvelous personality, but Humphrey had had a little bit of a prostate problem.

“[Nixon] was dead serious, and he said, ‘I’ve got something I really want to share with you. It’s enormously important to the country.’ We had no idea. We thought he might be going to tell us he was going to resign.

“Humphrey all of a sudden, had a call of nature. Just at the crucial moment, he said, ‘Hold everything, Mr. President. Hold everything right there.’

“Humphrey scoots off to the men’s room. And we held everything right there.

“Anyway, Humphrey comes back, and President Nixon says, ‘I’ve asked [Vice President Spiro] Agnew to resign.’ We didn’t know Agnew was under investigation. It was right out of the blue – because it was about things that happened in Maryland [when Agnew was governor]. It had nothing to do with Watergate.”

We will have more on this later, but among those in the reserved seating area was Shirley Miller, widow of Gov. Zell Miller, who died this year of Lewy body dementia. Sitting not far from Shirley Miller was a quiet Ted Turner. The 79-year-old media mogul had announced only a few days earlier that he now suffers from the same disease.

It was Turner who first bankrolled Nunn’s second career as the man who has attempted to make sure that the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons remain secure in a rapidly shifting climate.

Asked by his daughter whether he regretted not running for president, Nunn said no. “Ted Turner’s really given me the opportunity to have the best of all worlds,” Nunn said.

***

Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder may have dropped a hint about his future aspirations with a Sunday morning trip to Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta. 

A tipster who attends the church said Holder encouraged voters to turn out and talked about voting as a right and responsibility -- a typical pre-election message. 

Both then when Holder was shown a picture of himself and former President Barack Obama, he said -- perhaps in jest, perhaps not -- that he might be seeing “two presidents” in that photo. 

He quickly added, “Please don’t tell my wife I said that.” Consider her notified. 

The crowd, by the way, responded with a standing ovation.

***

If it’s not plagiarism, it certainly is cut-and-paste-ism. Surrogates of Republican candidate for governor Brian Kemp have been writing nearly identical letters blasting Stacey Abrams to various Georgia newspapers.

Former state Sen. Jim Butterworth, who backed Kemp’s rival Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the GOP primary, brought it to our attention with a screenshot tweet of another letter to the editor. 

This was from Virginia Webb of the Habersham County Democrats, who wrote:

“While researching online in Google, I noticed a letter to the editor of the Savannah Morning News written by Rep. Jesse Petrea. That letter is word-for-word the same as written and submitted by Rep. Terry Rogers.

“The next Google item was the same letter to the editor, written by Rep. Rick Williams in Milledgeville’s The Union-Recorder.

“Then in the Marietta Daily Journal, Rep. Matt Dollar has also submitted the exact letter, word-for-word. Finally, in a two-minute search, I found another letter to the editor – with a few changes – from Rogers’ original letter, from Rep. Trey Kelley in northwest Georgia.”

***

It’s no surprise to see a candidate for governor buy TV time during the Atlanta Braves post-season series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It is a surprise to see Democrat Stacey Abrams buy airtime on national, not local, airwaves. That’s what she did during last night’s nail-biter. We know that because one of your insiders saw the ad from a hotel in Manhattan on a daddy-daughter trip. 

***

Speaking of the advantages of having a well-funded gubernatorial campaign, a Republican reader has sent us this internet-based ad he spotted, seeking canvassers for Stacey Abrams in Brunswick, Ga. From the ad:

“We are looking for smart, industrious and charismatic people to speak to voters at their doors across the state….The position offers entrepreneurial challenges with opportunities for growth and a unique experience on a historical campaign.

“Canvassers are core members of the team, conducting face-to-face conversations with voters at their homes. As a Canvasser, you are responsible for delivering scripted talking points, sharing personal experiences with important issues and making the case to vote for Stacey Abrams.”

The pay is $15 per hour. Openings are immediate and last through November, the ad says – perhaps an allusion to a possible runoff?

***

This morning, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Geoff Duncan is highlighting the support of more than two dozen local sheriffs, as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York campaigned with his Democratic rival Sarah Riggs Amico. 
Gillibrand, the latest in a host of potential 2020 candidates to visit Georgia, was among the first leading Democrats to call for the end of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

***

Former U.S. House speaker and Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich was a massive presence during President Donald Trump’s transition into the White House, but he’s been far more quiet since his wife Callista was confirmed as ambassador to the Holy See.

That may be changing This lede from Politico caught our eye over the weekend:

“President Donald Trump huddled Wednesday with Fox News host Sean Hannity and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, according to two people familiar with the plans, a meeting that was originally set to discuss midterm strategy.”

The news site reports that Gingrich, the architect of Congress’ Republican takeover in 1994, authored an “expansive memo” for Trump detailing how he can help his party maintain control of the House and Senate this fall.

***

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