PG A.M.: Sen. Colton Moore spreads falsehoods about airport trafficking

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State Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, is reportedly making false claims about “secret trafficking” at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Sen. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, is reportedly making false claims about “secret trafficking” at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

A few days ago, Republican state Sen. Colton Moore trumpeted that he found “secret trafficking” at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Far-right media quickly amplified him, claiming a clandestine illegal immigration ring was operating throughout the busy concourses.

Except it wasn’t true. What Moore, who was suspended from the GOP caucus last year, had “uncovered” was a group of Georgia volunteers with Team Libertad that has openly helped immigrants navigate the airport since 2020.

In fact, as the AJC’s Lautaro Grinspan reminded readers this week, the nonprofit was the subject of a roughly 2,000-word profile that he wrote three years earlier. The immigrants the group helps were former detainees from Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia who were apprehended by U.S. border authorities.

Wrote Grinspan:

They are in deportation proceedings and are released on the condition that they attend regular check-ins with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. They must ultimately show up to immigration court, where they can make a case to be allowed to stay in the U.S. Because of big backlogs of cases in immigration courts countrywide, the immigrants will probably be able to live in the country for years.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Moore, R-Trenton, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Nor has he acknowledged the falsehoods he spread. His viral post that “Georgia borders are being breached” by an illicit operation is still getting outsized attention.

This isn’t the first time Moore has spread viral falsehoods. He was ousted from the GOP caucus last year for harassing GOP colleagues who refused to help his politically impossible effort to impeach Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

And more than a few Republicans noted that Moore was the sole “no” vote on legislation last year to crack down on human trafficking.

Georgians need no reminders that lies have consequences. Top politicians and humble election staffers were threatened and harassed after former President Donald Trump and his allies promoted bizarre conspiracy theories and outright lies about election fraud in 2020.

This time, the Moore-driven narrative spread so quickly that Gov. Brian Kemp received a briefing. In a four-page memo, James Stallings of Georgia’s emergency management agency noted that the group has openly operated for years and poked holes at other Moore lies.

“His interpretation of a room being protected by the military was a complete misunderstanding of the situation. Those service members were simply relaxing outside the USO waiting for their journey to continue,” wrote Stallings of the United Services Organization airport lounge.

Savvy state officials weren’t surprised. More than a few had the same takeaway: It’s a reminder of the flood of frauds and fantasies to come as November nears.

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Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is set to report that he’s collected more than $1.8 million between his campaign and leadership committee since his 2022 election. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

BURT’S BOUNTY. Governors aren’t the only politicians who can use leadership committees to raise unlimited cash from donors.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is set to report that he’s collected more than $1.8 million between his campaign and leadership committee since his 2022 election. Those accounts have about $1 million in cash on hand. Leadership committees were made legal under a 2021 law and allow elected officials to raise and spend unlimited contributions from donors.

The fundraising vehicle gives Jones an edge as he prepares for a likely 2026 run for governor. The Republican is the scion of a wealthy fuel and logistics empire, but he can also leverage his statewide post to raise heaps of cash.

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The Georgia State Capitol. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Casey Sykes

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Credit: Casey Sykes

UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Legislative Day 16:

  • 7 a.m.: Committee meetings begin.
  • 10 a.m.: The House convenes.
  • 10 a.m.: The Senate gavels in.

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House Appropriations Committee Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, explains proposed changes to the current state budget during a committee meeting on Feb. 6, 2024, at the Capitol in Atlanta. (Jeff Amy/AP)

Credit: Jeff Amy/AP

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Credit: Jeff Amy/AP

OUT OF THE HOPPER. The House and Senate are moving plenty of legislation this week. On Tuesday:

  • The state House Appropriations Committee passed a midyear budget that adds $5 billion in new spending, including money for a new medical school at the University of Georgia, roads, rural airports, local water and sewer projects, and rural economic development programs, the AJC’s James Salzer reports. The House is expected to pass the budget later today.
  • The Senate passed Senate Bill 344, which creates a sales tax holiday for the purchase of firearms, ammunition and other gun accessories during the first week of hunting season in October. A reader reminded us that Georgia’s sales tax holiday on school supplies ended several years ago and was never renewed by the Legislature.
State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, listens to arguments about Senate Bill 332 at the Capitol in Atlanta on Feb. 6, 2024. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

  • The state Senate passed SB 322, a second version of its bill to let the newly created Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission begin its work. Although a group of state senators has already filed a complaint about Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, said on the floor the commission isn’t about Willis. “All we’re trying to do is hold every officer of the court to the same standard,” he said.
  • The controversial cash bail bill, SB 63, gained passage in the House on Tuesday and heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. The measure adds dozens of misdemeanor and felony offenses, such as trespassing and failure to appear for a traffic citation, to the list of cash-restricted charges and is touted by supporters as a way to stop the revolving door of violent criminals who are released on a signature bond only to be arrested soon after on another charge.

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MAYORKAS IMPEACHMENT FAILS. Four House Republicans voted with Democrats to tank the impeachment resolution against U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The vote was initially tied 215-215, meaning it failed. GOP Vice Chairman Blake Moore changed his vote to a “no” so that he could be in position to bring the bill up for reconsideration in the future.

The three Republicans who opposed the measure outright were Reps. Ken Buck of Colorado, Tom McClintock of California and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

The Georgia delegation split along party lines with all Republicans in favor of impeaching Mayorkas and all Democrats opposed.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, was the primary sponsor and chief cheerleader for removing Mayorkas from office. Had the effort succeeded, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, planned to name Greene as one of 11 impeachment managers appointed to argue the case against Mayorkas during a Senate trial.

House GOP leaders pledged to bring the bill back up to the floor in the coming weeks, hoping that the return of Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, would give them the vote they need to break the tie. He is undergoing treatment for cancer and not present for votes this week.

However, if the Democratic candidate wins the special election next week to replace ousted New York lawmaker George Santos, that would mean Democrats still had enough votes to stifle impeaching Mayorkas unless Buck, McClintock and Gallagher change their minds.

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House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., enters the House chamber as lawmakers gather in Washington on Feb. 6, 2024. The House rejected a Republican-led proposal to provide $17.6 billion in emergency aid to Israel. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

DOUBLE FAIL. The House also rejected a Republican-led proposal to provide $17.6 billion in emergency aid to Israel.

The bill is different from the one passed in November with the support of most Republicans and a few Democrats. That legislation offset the money for Israel with cuts to the IRS.

This time, the bill failed because President Joe Biden promised to veto it and House Democrats again refused to support the measure. They accused Republicans of playing politics by refusing to consider the bipartisan legislation filed in the Senate this week that includes the funding for Israel plus money for Ukraine and a sweeping overhaul of U.S.-Mexico border security policies.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, voted in favor of a failed bill to provide $17.6 billion in emergency aid to Israel. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Still, 46 Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of the bill. That includes Georgia Reps. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, and David Scott, D-Atlanta.

On the other hand, 14 conservative Republicans voted with most Democrats against the bill because they don’t support funding for Israel without offsets. That number included Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, and Andrew Clyde, R-Athens.

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A vessel sails past Historic Cockspur Lighthouse, left, at the mouth of the Savannah River. (Stephen B. Morton for the AJC)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

DEEPER DIG. Georgia lawmakers on Capitol Hill have officially backed the Ports Authority’s call for a study to deepen the Savannah River shipping channel, an initiative first reported by your insider Adam Van Brimmer last fall.

All 16 legislators signed a letter urging members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as well as the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to include the study among the projects in the Water Resources Development Act of 2024. The WRDA is currently being written.

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on her Fight for Reproductive Freedoms tour at Savannah Civic Center in Savannah on Tuesday, February 6, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

RALLYING CRY. Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t mince words in her message to abortion rights advocates during a visit to Savannah on Tuesday. She labeled Republican state lawmakers as “extremists” and former President Donald Trump as “the architect of this health care crisis.”

Harris’ rally was part of her “Reproductive Freedoms” tour that launched last month on the 51st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, a decision overturned by the high court in 2022. The vice president will hold similar events in other states where GOP-led state legislatures have tightened abortion restrictions.

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State Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, was a guest on the "Politically Georgia" show this week. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

LISTEN UP. State Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, joined the “Politically Georgia” radio show on Tuesday to discuss Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Savannah and other news from the Legislature. GOP strategist Cody Hall also called in to discuss Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Joining the show today are DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and Anthony Michael Kreis, professor of law at Georgia State University.

Listen at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And listen to Wednesday’s show live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 FM, at AJC.com and at WABE.org.

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First lady Jill Biden will deliver remarks on women’s health today at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar/arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden travels to New York City to attend three campaign fundraisers.
  • First lady Jill Biden delivers remarks on women’s health at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.
  • The Senate holds its first procedural vote to advance the bipartisan $118 billion border security package that also includes money for Israel and Ukraine.
  • The House votes on legislation that bans Medicare and Medicaid from using certain metrics to analyze costs that advocates say discriminate against people with disabilities.
  • The annual House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference begins in Leesburg, Virginia.

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WILLIS WATCH. Someone is sending out an opinion poll probing whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is vulnerable.

It starts innocently enough, asking respondents to indicate whether they’d support the Democrat for another four-year term. But as the questions pile up, the tone gets more negative. Consider question No. 10:

“Do you think that the millions of dollars spent and resources used to prosecute President Trump and his allies is worth it — or would you rather have the District Attorney’s office use those resources to prosecute criminals?”

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Tippy Dunlap calls AJC subscribers Grady and Kay Dunlap her people. She was a "farm find" in South Georgia, but now splits her time between the farm, the road, and Fayetteville. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

DOG OF THE DAY. Old farms are always hiding old treasures. But AJC subscribers Grady and Kay Dunlap discovered a new treasure at their South Georgia farm several years ago when they drove up to the property and found this pup.

They named her Tippy for the white tip of her tail and brought her home to Fayetteville. Tippy now spends her time shaking the stuffing out of toys, chasing cows, and riding between the farm, the road, and Fayetteville.

Send us your dogs of any political persuasion and location, and cats on a cat-by-cat basis, to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, or DM us at @MurphyAJC.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com, and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.