During a remarkable press conference, Gov. Brian Kemp quashed the idea of a special legislative session pushed by former President Donald Trump and his allies to oust Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis after she charged them with a vast conspiracy to reverse his 2020 defeat.
And the governor on Thursday also dismissed talk of backing efforts to reprimand Willis, either through legislative hearings that seek to slash state funding to her office or a newly empowered panel that can sanction wayward prosecutors or remove them from office.
The second-term Republican said he hasn’t “seen any evidence” that Willis has violated her oath of office, even though he voiced concerns about whether she was motivated by politics to pursue the 41-count indictment.
“The bottom line is that in the state of Georgia as long as I’m governor, we’re going to follow the law and the Constitution, regardless of who it helps and harms politically,” Kemp said. “Over the last few years, some inside and outside of this building may have forgotten that. But I can assure you that I have not.”
Kemp added: “In Georgia, we will not be engaging in political theater that only inflames the emotions of the moment. We will do what is right. We will uphold our oath to public service. And it is my belief that our state will be better off for it.”
The governor is pushing back against an effort by Republican state Sen. Colton Moore to impeach Willis in the General Assembly. Beyond the significant legal issues that raises, the push is politically impossible because it requires Democratic support.
Kemp’s remarks came during a press conference at the state Capitol that opened with an update on storm damage from Hurricane Idalia in South Georgia — and unfolded just as Trump entered a not guilty plea to charges that he orchestrated a sprawling “criminal enterprise.”
He summoned a reminder of the fraught days after the 2020 election, when the governor and other Republican leaders were blamed by Trump for his defeat. That quickly made them targets of his supporters, who peppered them with death threats and vowed to oust Kemp from office.
He said he sees echoes of those volatile times now, as Moore and other far-right Republicans have pressured GOP lawmakers to join their push, leading to harassing behavior from Trump loyalists. At least five state senators have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they’ve received threats.
Republicans, the governor said, should be talking to Georgians about their economic policies and public safety platforms and “not focused on the past, or some grifter scam that somebody’s doing to help them raise a few dollars into their campaign account.”
The governor joined a chorus of Republicans seeking to lower the temperature of the escalating rhetoric. House Speaker Jon Burns wrote a lengthy letter to Republicans warning that the initiative flouts “the idea of separation of powers, if not outright violates it.”
And Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said in a statement to the AJC on Thursday that Moore’s idea is “not practical.”
“Calling individual members out by name becomes a distraction from what we should be talking about, and that is the gross misuse of power, resources and responsibility from the Fulton County DA,” he said.
Moore, for his part, has indicated he won’t scale down his bellicose rhetoric. He’s called GOP colleagues who oppose his effort “buzzard cowards,” and he encouraged Trump loyalists to berate them until they do.
In an interview with Channel 2 Action News, Moore framed it as a rift between the elites and the rank and file.
Credit: Michael Blackshire/AJC
Credit: Michael Blackshire/AJC
“We’ve got the ruling Republican class — the speaker and the governor,” he said. “Then we’ve got the grassroots, we’ve got the people at home who don’t want their tax dollars funding Fani Willis. That’s where the debate is right now.”
While senior Republicans have roundly rejected Moore’s initiative, some have endorsed hearings to slash Willis’ funding or encouraged her critics to file complaints before the new Prosecutorial Attorneys Qualifications Commission later this year. Kemp cautioned that tactic could backfire.
“These rules and laws work both ways for all parties — Republican, Democrat or otherwise,” the governor said. “And you have to be very careful when you’re in power in government not to abuse that power, because if you do, you set the precedent for the other side using what you did in the future against them.”