Capitol Recap: Georgia’s fake electors now targets in 2020 election probe

The special grand jury that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis assembled to investigate then-President Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia has identified 16 fake Republican electors as targets of the investigation. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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The special grand jury that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis assembled to investigate then-President Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia has identified 16 fake Republican electors as targets of the investigation. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Fulton grand jury turns sights on GOP slate

Court filings indicate that all 16 members of a phony slate of Republican electors are now targets of the Fulton County grand jury investigation into Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The fake GOP electors gathered at the state Capitol in December 2020 as part of a sham ceremony to further Trump’s push to reverse his defeat to Joe Biden.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported that two of them — state Sen. Burt Jones, now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer — had received so-called target letters.

The 14 additional fake electors are Mark Amick, Joseph Brannan, Ken Carroll, Brad Carver, Vicki Consiglio, John Downey, Carolyn Fisher, Kay Godwin, David Hanna, Mark Hennessy, Cathleen Latham, Daryl Moody, Shawn Still and C.B. Yadav.

Attorneys representing 11 of those fake electors filed a motion to block their grand jury subpoenas for appearances beginning in the coming week as “unreasonable and oppressive.”

The filing said the fake electors “reluctantly” invoked their Fifth Amendment rights after receiving the target letters. And the document defended their actions, citing as precedent the 1960 appointment of Democratic electors to vote for John F. Kennedy in Hawaii, a state he won in a recount.

Jones filed a motion earlier this month in Fulton County Superior Court seeking to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, citing a recent fundraiser she hosted to boost Charlie Bailey, a former colleague in the Fulton district attorney’s office who is Jones’ Democratic opponent.

In its own filing, the Fulton DA’s office argued that Jones’ challenge should be dismissed because the Republican “has failed to identify any personal interest on behalf of the District Attorney or any other prosecutor that meets the legal criteria for disqualification.”

Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled the fake electors must honor their subpoenas. He was still considering Jones’ motion, with a promise to rule soon. However, he did call the optics of the Bailey fundraiser “horrific.”

The false slate of 16 electors has become a major point of interest of the Fulton County special grand jury examining whether Trump or his allies broke any state laws as they sought to reverse Biden’s win in Georgia. Some legal experts say the fake electors may have violated laws including election fraud and forgery statutes.

The fake electors have also gained the attention of investigators in Washington, both for the Justice Department and the House committee examining the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Federal prosecutors recently subpoenaed Shafer and others for information about the fake electors.

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A federal judge is weighing a court challenge to a provision in Georgia's voting law that bars the handing out of food and drinks to voters as they wait in line to cast ballots. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

A federal judge is weighing a court challenge to a provision in Georgia's voting law that bars the handing out of food and drinks to voters as they wait in line to cast ballots. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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A federal judge is weighing a court challenge to a provision in Georgia's voting law that bars the handing out of food and drinks to voters as they wait in line to cast ballots. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Judge to rule on food and drink restriction in Georgia voting law

Sometimes a beverage could be more than a beverage.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee, during a hearing on one aspect of Georgia’s new election law barring the distribution of food and drink to voters as they wait in line to cast their ballots, asked whether voting groups were truly acting in a nonpartisan manner as they dished out refreshments.

“Are they helping someone because they’re thirsty, or because they want to determine control of the U.S. Senate?” Boulee asked.

The ban is part of Senate Bill 202, a package of voting-related restrictions that the Republican-led General Assembly approved after Donald Trump made false claims that the 2020 presidential election in Georgia was rigged against him.

Voting organizations argued that the snack and water ban should be blocked, telling Boulee that they have a free-speech right to encourage participation in elections.

Supporters of the ban said it protects voters from attempts to influence their decisions in the moments before they cast their ballots.

The law prevents anyone from handing out food and drinks to a voter who is in line, within 25 feet of a line or within 150 feet of the outer edge of a polling place. Food and water could be distributed outside those boundaries, and poll workers are allowed to set up self-service water receptacles.

Rhonda Briggins of the public service organization Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., one of the plaintiffs in the case, said her group distributed granola bars and pretzels to voters so they could remain in line to vote.

“We’re the cheerleaders to ensure people exercise their right to vote,” Briggins testified. “At no point are we telling people who to vote for.”

Supporters of the law told Boulee that boundaries are needed to ensure waiting voters are free from interference.

Ryan Germany, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, said food trucks at polling places during the 2020 campaign “really felt like campaigning within that buffer zone.”

Boulee, who was appointed to the federal bench by Trump, could rule in the coming weeks.

He has already ruled on other parts of SB 202. He upheld the law’s limits on advocacy organizations’ mass mailings of absentee ballot application forms to voters and a requirement that voters request absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day. He ruled against another provision that would have prohibited photographing or recording ballots outside of polling places, including during vote counts, recounts and audits.

Several lawsuits challenging the voting law are ongoing, focusing on its limits on ballot drop boxes, requirements for additional ID to vote absentee and a process for state takeovers of county election boards.

Counties pursue election audits to assure voters their ballots count

Pickens County this past week became the latest county to vote to ask a judge to unseal ballots to audit the results in this year’s primary.

If a court agrees, election workers will hand count more than 7,600 ballots cast in Republican races for governor and secretary of state to check the accuracy of results tabulated by voting computers.

The audit couldn’t change election results, which have already been certified, but they could show the public whether Pickens’ vote counts are accurate.

Members of Pickens’ election board said they sought the audit in response to residents who distrust Georgia’s election equipment, manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, which uses touchscreens to print out paper ballots.

Suspicions of election equipment followed Republican President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, when his supporters claimed there was fraud and blamed Dominion voting machines. Recounts, court cases and investigations have upheld the election results.

Chris Mora, chairman for the Pickens County Republican Party, said an audit could reassure residents that their votes are counted correctly.

“We saw a good-sized number of people saying, ‘I don’t care, I’m not going to show up if my vote doesn’t matter,’ " Mora said. “Not to get into conspiracy theories, because that stuff drives me nuts, but it was more about how to prove to the citizens that their vote is going to count.”

A few other Georgia counties have also pursued audits of this year’s elections.

Audits in Bartow and Oconee counties found identical results when comparing hand and computer counts.

Cherokee County’s election board plans to vote next month on whether to seek to unseal ballots for a full audit after it completed an initial audit of seven precincts earlier this month. That audit found small discrepancies with the original count, according to The Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News.

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday at a car dealership in Ocilla. Walker earlier this month appeared at events closed to the media, but this past week he spoke with reporters. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)..

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday at a car dealership in Ocilla. Walker earlier this month appeared at events closed to the media, but this past week he spoke with reporters. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)..

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday at a car dealership in Ocilla. Walker earlier this month appeared at events closed to the media, but this past week he spoke with reporters. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)..

Walker makes some changes to his approach, campaign team

Has Herschel Walker pivoted?

The Republican U.S. Senate candidate has largely run a campaign built on private gatherings and closed-press events.

But after a series of bad headlines — revelations about unacknowledged children, internal campaign turmoil, false claims that he worked in law enforcement, assertions that he graduated from college when he has not, exaggerations about his business record and bizarre statements promoting a phony coronavirus cure — Walker may be changing his game plan.

This past week he met with reporters at campaign events, such as appearances in Athens and Ocilla where he discussed agriculture.

Walker, who skipped debates during the GOP primary, almost, kind of, sort of said he would appear in a faceoff on the issues with his Democratic opponent, incumbent Raphael Warnock.

“If we negotiate and we got everything right, we’ll be debating on Oct. 16 and I’ll be ready to go,” the Republican told reporters in Athens.

Walker spokeswoman Mallory Blount later clarified the campaign’s position.

“Any debate we agree to must have a fair and equitable format and unbiased moderator,” Blount said. “If we can get that, voters will see the deep contrast between Sen. Warnock, who works for Joe Biden, and Herschel Walker, who will work for the people of Georgia.”

So maybe, possibly, potentially a debate is in the works.

Warnock has said he will participate in three debates across the state, including the Atlanta Press Club debate on Oct. 16, but this is the closest Walker has come to committing to even one.

Walker also did a better job this past week of staying on message. He avoided comments like his response to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers: “What about looking at getting a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at their social media?”

He also reshaped his campaign team, announcing new hires with deep experience in nationally watched contests, including a former Mitt Romney aide.

Walker’s deputies also met with top staffers with the National Republican Senatorial Committee to map out a strategy for the final stretch.

Will all that work?

Call Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz skeptical.

“Things couldn’t go any worse than they have for his campaign these last few weeks. The fundamental problem is the candidate. They’re stuck with Herschel Walker, with all his baggage and his false claims,” Abramowitz said. “They’ve got a continuing problem here.”

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The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, has launched a probe he said will look into allegations of "corruption, abuse and misconduct" at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. (David Barnes / Special)

Credit: David Barnes

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, has launched a probe he said will look into allegations of "corruption, abuse and misconduct" at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. (David Barnes / Special)

Credit: David Barnes

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The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, has launched a probe he said will look into allegations of "corruption, abuse and misconduct" at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. (David Barnes / Special)

Credit: David Barnes

Credit: David Barnes

Ossoff to lead congressional probe that will examine Atlanta penitentiary

The Atlanta Federal Penitentiary has gained the attention of U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, and that means subpoenas.

Ossoff is chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday that he said will look into allegations of “corruption, abuse and misconduct” at the Atlanta prison.

A star witness at the hearing will be the outgoing director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal. Ossoff said he had asked the Department of Justice to allow Carvajal to voluntarily appear at the hearing. That request was rejected, so the panel subpoenaed Carvajal.

Carvajal announced in January that he was leaving the bureau following months of scandal that include high rates of coronavirus infections among inmates and allegations of corruption and abuses at facilities across the nation.

The Justice Department offered to have acting Deputy Director William Lothrop Jr. appear before the subcommittee instead. It said it wanted Carvajal to spend his final days at the bureau focusing on preparing the agency and its incoming director, Colette Peters, “for this transition in leadership.”

Peters will replace Carvajal on Aug. 2.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has spent years documenting controversies at the medium-security Atlanta penitentiary, a detention center for pre-trial defendants and a minimum-security prison camp contained at the same complex. Security gaps and inadequate or incompetent staffing have been cited as problems that provided openings for contraband and misbehavior among inmates.

Last year, the prison was put under lockdown after the discovery of dozens of cellphones and other unauthorized materials in one of the penitentiary’s units. Several senior officers were banned from the facility, and about 1,100 inmates were transferred to prisons in other states.

Political expedience

  • $20 million race: A lot of money is being spent to keep U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in office, but not quite as much as what’s being used to try to unseat the Republican, The Rome News-Tribune reports. Greene’s Democratic opponent in the traditionally conservative 14th Congressional District, Marcus Flowers, has raised $10,762,238, while the congresswoman has pulled in $10,246,641. Flowers is also outspending Greene, $9,890,245 to $7,973,847. There’s still more than three months to add to those totals before the election.
  • Cruz plans visit: Georgia is learning that if you’re a battleground state, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is coming. The Truth and Courage PAC, which backs Cruz, a former and potentially future presidential candidate, has scheduled a “summit” for Aug. 27 at the Westin Buckhead. Joining Cruz will be Rich McCormick, the GOP nominee in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
  • Gun hearing: The CEO of Daniel Defense, the southeast Georgia gunmaker that manufactured the AR-15-style weapon used in the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, will appear at a hearing Wednesday before the U.S. House Oversight Committee. Marty Daniel will attend alongside the head of another firearm producer, Sturm, Ruger & Co., and representatives from two gun control organizations.

More top stories online

Here’s a sample of other stories about Georgia government and politics that can be found at www.ajc.com/politics/: