ADDS THAT THE AP HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO VERIFY THE SOURCE OF THE VIDEO - This image from video posted on Twitter Tuesday, May 5, 2020, purports to show Ahmaud Arbery, left, struggling with Travis McMichael over a shotgun on a street in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020. McMichael's father, Gregory, who was also at the scene, said Arbery was shot as the two men fought over the gun, according to the police report. The AP has not been able to verify the source of the video. (Twitter via AP)
Photo: AP
Photo: AP

The Jolt: Why Chris Carr didn’t see the Ahmaud Arbery video until last week

Possibly, you’ve already seen today’s print column based on an interview with state Attorney General Chris Carr on his handling of the investigation into the Ahmaud Arbery slaying.

In the piece, Carr says he first laid eyes on the leaked video of Arbery’s death on May 5, at the same time the rest of us did. “I was stunned. It made you sick to your stomach,” Carr said.

Space didn’t allow for the attorney general’s response to a follow-up question. Since the Feb. 23 incident, the Arbery investigation has been in the hands of four prosecutors. Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes was assigned the case on Monday at Carr’s direction.

The original district attorney, Jackie Johnson of Glynn County, recused herself because one of the accused, Gregory McMichael, had retired from her office only a year before. As was required, Carr approved the transfer of the case to Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, who also recused himself, handing the case to District Attorney Tom Durden of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit – who ultimately decided his staff lacked the capacity in a case that was exploding in scope.

None of the three prosecutors had revealed the fact that Arbery’s killing had been recorded. I asked Carr whether, under normal circumstances, he would have been shown the video when he was asked to approve the previous two transfers. “No,” he said. The verbatim:

“The way that conflicts work in Georgia is this. Some DAs will tell us what the conflict is, at a very cursory level. Others will give us more detail. They don’t have to. It is incumbent on the DA or solicitor, either one, to say, ‘I have a conflict.’ We can appoint another DA or solicitor, we can keep the case ourselves, or we can hire a – the law says a ‘competent attorney.’ But that doesn’t happen very often.

“Practically speaking, you go to the next closest geographical DA or solicitor general, ‘cause they’re basically going to foot the bill, to take the case. Some DAs will come to us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this conflict, I spoke with so-and-so.’ They’re willing to take it. We sign it.

“It’s just an administrative job. We don’t get the case file, we don’t see evidence. We don’t do any of that – unless we take the case.”

Carr said he’s approved 671 conflict appointments since taking the job of attorney general in 2016. But he added this:

“What would be unusual, however, is if a district attorney or a solicitor, when they conflicted themselves out, had conversations with another district attorney to the extent of ‘Here’s the outcome that needs to occur.’”

We pointed out that this is what may have happened as both Johnson and Barnhill handed the case off. Glynn County commissioners Peter Murphy and Allen Booker have said Johnson’s office told police not to make any arrests immediately after the shooting, which Johnson has disputed.

Barnhill issued a detailed letter exonerating Greg McMichael and his grown son Travis on April 3 even as the district attorney had concluded that he had a conflict of interest in the case.

Said Carr: “That’s what we’re going to investigate, so I can’t speak to that.”

In a strongly worded statement issued over the weekend, the National District Attorneys Association took particular issue with Barnhill’s letter.

“No prosecutor should inject his or her opinion into a pending case to the point where she or he becomes a potential witness and risks compromising the just outcome of a case,” the organization said.

*** 

Gov. Brian Kemp extended some coronavirus restrictions Tuesday, setting the stage for summer camps to reopen and some state employees to return to offices within a week. Those who have criticized Georgia’s rush to reopen the economy are also changing their messages. On Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said this on CNN:

“We are where we are. My approach has been moving to a second phase of how I’m speaking to our citizens. What I am telling people is, please stay home. And if you just can’t stay home, then please be careful.

“Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Try and distance yourselves. Because my concern in my state and in my city is that we’ve gone back to normal – and there’s nothing normal about where we are with COVID-19.”

***

House Speaker David Ralston on Tuesday announced a delay of a planned return to the state Capitol, pushing the commencement of in-person meetings back by two weeks to June 1, with in-person committee meetings beginning June 2, our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reports. It’s not official, but Ralston is still pushing for a June 11 resumption of the 2020 legislative session.

***

Republican Andrew Clyde has taken aim at state Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, in the first TV ad of his Ninth District congressional campaign.

Clyde, a gun store owner and military veteran, blasts Gurtler for voting against a resolution that praised President Donald Trump and the military for killing Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military leader.

“Matt said President Trump was wrong when he chose to have a terrorist killed. But Matt doesn’t understand war. I’m Andrew Clyde. A three combat tour U.S. Navy veteran and owner of Clyde Armory. 

As your congressman, I will protect life, defend the Second Amendment and proudly stand with the president.I approve this message because we’re fighting for the future of our country. And this is war.” 

Gurtler, who votes “no” more than any other state legislator, is known for voting against nearly every proposal that passes through the chamber.

At the time, he told Fetch Your News that he supported Trump’s decision, but objected to other parts of the resolution -- he called it a “political stunt” -- that praised President George W. Bush’s foreign policy. 

***

Also in the Ninth District contest, Republican Ethan Underwood has unveiled a TV ad that ties himself to President Donald Trump - and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is vacating the seat to challenge Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

***

A Seventh District GOP forum last night offered a glimpse into how Republicans plan to talk about Gov. Brian Kemp’s coronavirus rollbacks in November. Asked how he would defend against “government overreach,” Dr. Rich McCormick immediately pivoted to the pandemic response. 

“So one of the things I really enjoyed about the president’s response to this latest pandemic is, he decentralized command. The greatest ability for a nation to react is on the local level. He gave the governors the ability to react to their local requirements.

“I think that’s always going to be the best answer. I love the fact that they pushed it down to each governor and it showed. Each governor had their own independent ability to react to this. And then you can contrast and compare each governor to what’s most effective.”

***

Rich McCormick and Seventh District GOP rival Renee Unterman, a state senator from Buford, are also battling it out on social media and the airwaves. He accused her of running television ads that attack him for not casting a vote in 2016. 

McCormick has said there was a mix-up with the absentee ballot he requested since he was away from home on military duty. However, Republican opponents in the Seventh District race have accused him of boycotting the election because he didn’t support President Donald Trump.

“Career politician Renee Unterman is desperate to remain in office. She’s attacking me on TV saying I didn’t request [an] absentee ballot and didn’t support @realdonaldtrump,” McCormick wrote on Twitter.

A media tracking source said that Unterman purchased nearly $34,000 in cable TV time to run ads through May 24. It is unclear if Unterman is using the time solely for the ad that focuses on her beef with McCormick.

***

In endorsement news:

-- U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler launched a new endorsement page on Wednesday that includes Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, state Sen. Ben Watson and state Reps. John Corbett, Matt Dollar, Dominic LaRiccia and Bonnie Rich.

-- The bishop who oversees multiple Georgia congregations in one of the nation’s largest African-American denominations has endorsed Teresa Tomlinson’s Senate campaign. Bishop Reginald Jackson is the presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

***

U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s parting agreement with an Atlanta-based data marketing firm is now under scrutiny.

The Intercept was the first to report that he was allowed to hold onto shares of Cardlytics years after resigning from its board, a deal that earned him an estimated $6 million when the company went public.

There is no wrongdoing or rule-breaking in having arrangements like this. The wealthy senator’s compensation from Cardlytics is just the latest detail in his vast portfolio of assets and investments to face inquiry as he runs for re-election this year.

There is some debate, however, over whether the treatment of Perdue was common practice or is an example of special treatment. Cardlytics executives who provided information to The Intercept said the company had allowed many other employees to hold onto their shares and cash in after the 2018 public offering. Perdue resigned as a board member in December 2014, shortly before taking office.

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