The Jolt: A 50-person pandemic limit on a Trump rally? More fiction than restriction

President Donald Trump tosses face masks into the crowd as he arrives for a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Sanford, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Credit: Evan Vucci

Credit: Evan Vucci

We’ve told you plenty about how Gov. Brian Kemp and other Georgia Republicans are ignoring state coronavirus restrictions -- issued by the governor himself -- that limit gatherings to 50 people by staging giant rallies that draw hundreds to indoor spaces.

President Donald Trump’s trip to Macon later today might take the cake. Grant Blankenship of Georgia Public Broadcasting dug up the rental agreement between the Trump campaign and the Middle Georgia Regional Airport that acknowledges the 50-person limit and so implicitly concedes the rally will violate that cap.

It goes on to outline that masks are required at the rally when social distancing can’t be achieved, pandemic guidelines will be posted throughout the venue -- and largely ignored, if past events are any guide. Hand-sanitizing stations will be scattered across the rally location.

Democrats have thrown up a digital billboard near the airport with this message: “Trump COVID Superspreader Event.”

ExploreTrump aims for rural voters with Friday’s stop in middle Georgia

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The Associated Press reports that political minders have been assigned to the CDC to keep an eye on its leadership and scientists:

The Trump White House has installed two political operatives at the nation’s top public health agency to try to control the information it releases about the coronavirus pandemic as the administration seeks to paint a positive outlook, sometimes at odds with the scientific evidence.

The two appointees assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Atlanta headquarters in June have no public health background. They have instead been tasked with keeping an eye on Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency director, as well as scientists, according to a half-dozen CDC and administration officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal government affairs.

The appointments were part of a push to get more “politicals” into the CDC to help control messaging after a handful of leaks were “upsetting the apple cart,” said an administration official.

When the two appointees showed up in Atlanta, their roles were a mystery to senior CDC staff, the people said. They had not even been assigned offices. Eventually one, Nina Witkofsky, became acting chief of staff, an influential role as Redfield’s right hand. The other, her deputy Chester “Trey” Moeller, also began sitting in on scientific meetings, the sources said.

It’s not clear to what extent the two appointees have affected the agency’s work, according to interviews with multiple CDC officials. But congressional investigators are examining that very question after evidence has mounted of political interference in CDC scientific publications, guidance documents and web postings.

The White House declined to comment. A CDC spokesperson confirmed that Witkofsky and Moeller were working at the agency reporting to Redfield, but did not comment further.

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Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Republican congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene arrive at a news conference on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Dallas, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-theorist and future Georgia congresswoman, had nothing but kind words for U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Thursday when she endorsed her over Rep. Doug Collins.

But a few months ago, the controversial Republican was singing a different tune.

In an early December interview on the “Ben Burnett Show” podcast, before Loeffler was formally appointed to the vacant seat, Greene urged Gov. Brian Kemp to tap Collins to the coveted position. Here are some of her remarks from the Dec. 3 recording:

“I don’t know her at all so I’m not judging her in any way. She was a last-minute applicant before the portal closed … All along leading up to that, you had President Trump requesting from Governor Kemp, please appoint Doug Collins.”

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And then:

“It makes sense he would ask Doug Collins be picked for senator. And the other thing I’ve seen, and I’ve seen it over and over and over … everyone’s saying Doug Collins over and over and over. And not just in a small way. They’re screaming it.”

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And:

“The people want Doug Collins. It’s very obvious … I’m sure she’s a wonderful person, but I think people want to know more about her, but it’s hard.”

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Much, of course, has happened since then. Though the podcast was taped in December, Burnett only published it on Friday. An Alpharetta councilman, Burnett said he was frustrated by Loeffler’s “gimmicks, tricks and schemes.”

“When people show you who they are, believe them,” he said.

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Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kelly Loeffler made a joint appearance in Ringgold last month flanked by armed members of the Georgia III% Martyrs militia. AJC investigative reporter Chris Joyner explains how private militia groups like the have flourished in Georgia despite a state law against them.

In Georgia, a misdemeanor criminal statute that dates back to the 1950s bars private groups from forming “themselves together as a military unit or parade or demonstrate in public with firearms.”

Yet private militias operate freely in Georgia. In August, several armed militia groups converged on the city of Stone Mountain, forming columns and facing off against left-wing counter-demonstrators throughout a tense, and at-times violent, afternoon that shut the city down for most of the day. In a troubling development, many in the left-wing group were armed with assault rifles or pistols as well, some under the banner of the Coalition of Armed Labor, a leftist answer to the far-right militias.

The Martyrs didn’t go to Stone Mountain, but (leader Justin “Slayer”) Thayer said his group has shown up in Carrollton, Bremen and elsewhere to stand armed watch over Black Lives Matter protests to defend against “rioting and looting in our communities.”

“Every one that we have been at has been peaceful,” he said. But he said his militia is prepared to “defend our precincts.”

“If the police can’t handle it, we will step in,” he said.

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In endorsement news:

-- Some of Georgia’s most prominent faith leaders have endorsed Rev. Raphael Warnock’s U.S. Senate bid, including Atlanta mega-church pastors Jamal H. Bryant, William Murphy III and Craig Oliver. In total, over 100 clergy members signed the open letter supporting Warnock.

-- Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has endorsed another round of Democratic candidates, including Booker Gainor, a candidate for House District 173 running against GOP incumbent Darlene Taylor of Thomasville, and state Rep. Sam Park of Lawrenceville in House District 101. Park faces Republican Carol Field, a retired nurse.

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Already posted:

-- Democrats in Georgia’s most competitive U.S. Senate and House raises continue to outpace their GOP opponents in fundraising. We rounded up the third-quarter tallies from the candidate for these and a couple of other open seats.

-- Mired in a tight special election race, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler unleashed Georgia icon Herschel Walker in a TV ad that’s set to saturate the airwaves through November.

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A new left-leaning PAC called New South Georgia launched today with plans to spend $2.5 million promoting Senate Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

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FILE - Former gubernatorial candidate and former state Rep. Stacey Abrams speaks to the congregation at Brown Chapel church in Selma , Ala. on March 1, 2020. Abrams, the voting rights activist and former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, also has a career in writing novels. Her next one, the Supreme Court thriller “While Justice Sleeps,” come out May 25. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)

Credit: Butch Dill

Credit: Butch Dill

Stacey Abrams is dropping her pen name, Selena Montgomery, and will release her next novel, a political thriller, under her own, according to Hollywood Reporter. “While Justice Sleeps” will be released in May and focuses on a young law clerk working for a U.S. Supreme Court justice who falls into a coma. Intrigue is promised.

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Atlanta-based movie and TV mogul Tyler Perry has pledged $500,000 toward a campaign targeting Black voters in Florida, the New York Times reports.

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Republican congressional candidate Rich McCormick is out with a new ad that stems from his first turn in the national spotlight. In the early ’90s, McCormick was the star of the U.S. Marines “Chess” recruitment spot, donning a dress uniform and wielding a dress sword in the final moments.

In the new ad, the Seventh District congressional candidate leads with a bit of that recruitment video, then talks up his military service.

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