The Jolt: District Attorney Fani Willis sets Trump probe timeline

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Could the Fulton County special grand jury wrap up its work by year’s end? District Attorney Fani Willis indicated it’s very likely the probe into Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election will be over by January.

At a news conference on unrelated gang charges on Monday, Willis said the special grand jury had plowed through about 60% of its growing list of witnesses and she was happy with the pace of the inquest.

“There can’t be any predictions. As you know, many people are unsuccessfully fighting our subpoenas,” she said. “We will continue to fight to make sure that the grand jury and the public gets the truth. And I am very hopeful by the end of the year that I’ll be able to send this grand jury on their way.”

Her remarks came shortly after Judge Robert McBurney rejected Gov. Brian Kemp’s attempt to block his testimony — but agreed that it should be postponed until after the November election.

Willis bristled at the suggestion she was politicizing the investigation, noting that she waited until after the May primary to summon her first witnesses.

“I’ve been very specific and determined to get rid of that accusation that this is just some political stunt and we were trying to impact the election,” she said.

What does it mean? The governor’s testimony will come after Nov. 3. And if all goes to her schedule, Willis may be deciding in 2023 whether to seek charges against Trump or members of his inner circle per the grand jury’s recommendation.


COURTING KEMP. Judge Robert McBurney’s ruling was a partial victory for Gov. Brian Kemp, who tried not to testify at all, but argued that if he must speak to the grand jurors, it should be after his November election against Stacey Abrams.

The governor is in a tricky political spot. He’s managed to reach an effective truce with Donald Trump, who has stopped calling for his defeat over the last few months.

But Kemp’s supporters worry that appearing as if he’s cooperating with a Trump investigation risks antagonizing die-hard supporters of the former president.

Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, said Kemp is “terrified of angering Trump and getting bullied again.”

“The question for Kemp is the same as ever: Do you stand with truth or Trump? You can’t have it both ways,” said Carter, a former state senator. “And the sad thing is, he knows it. He knows Trump is a dangerous bully and he still won’t stand up to him.”


GIFT CARD + COMMERCIAL SHOOT. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker’s campaign has been mostly off the airwaves in recent weeks, likely in a bid to save its cash for the final stretch in September.

But it’s getting crucial aircover from 34N22, the pro-Walker super PAC that just placed a seven-figure ad buy. That includes roughly $850,000 for a new TV spot and another $150,000 or so in digital time for the message.

The new hard-hitting ad features Georgia voters in grocery stores blaming U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock for the high cost of food and gas.

And a quick glance will show you those are no actors. They were drawn from the people who went to one of 34N22′s multiple gift card giveaways around the state this summer. As the super PAC handed out $50 vouchers for food and gas at the events, it also prominently posted signage for Walker that also blamed Warnock for inflation and the high cost of food and gas.

“Senator Warnock is not focused on inflation,” says one woman in the ad.

“He cares more about Washington than he do Georgia,” a man says.


THE GREAT DEBATE UPDATE. Time is running out to nail down a debate between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and his GOP challenger, Herschel Walker.

The current debate stalemate began when Walker, who never debated his GOP primary rivals, said last October he was ready to debate Warnock anywhere, anytime.

In June, Warnock committed to three debates — hosted by established media in Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah — and told Walker to meet him there. All three would have questions from Georgia reporters, no studio audience, and would be broadcast statewide.

That was followed by months of Walker insisting he was ready to debate, and eventually agreeing to a fourth, this one in Savannah, hosted by another established media group with Georgia reporters asking the questions, but with a studio audience, including groups chosen by each campaign, and a post-debate “spin room.”

Where are we now? Warnock has committed to his three debates and Walker is in for a fourth which, not by accident, is not one of the three Warnock named, so not likely to happen.

We’re now told there are no conversations between the two camps to find a venue and format that’s agreeable to both, with time running short for Georgia voters to ever see Walker debate — or their two Senate options side-by-side.


TEAM BLUE. The Democrats’ candidate for lieutenant governor, Charlie Bailey, will travel to Savannah this evening for a joint news conference with Wade Herring, the party’s nominee for the 1st Congressional District seat.

A spokesman for Herring said the event will focus on both of their Republican opponents. Bailey will face state Sen. Burt Jones in November and Herring is campaigning to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter. The plan is for Bailey and Herring to highlight the differences between the Republican and Democratic tickets in Georgia, painting it as a choice for voters between “rational” and “radical.”

While Democrats in southeast Georgia are fired up about Herring’s matchup against Carter, Herring is the underdog. Republicans in the General Assembly made sure to keep the seat solidly red when they redrew the maps after the 2020 census.

And recent polling by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows Jones, who helped was one of then President Donald Trump’s “alternate electors,” leading Bailey, but with a large share of voters still undecided.


HOLD THE COFFEE TAKEOVER. The state’s new voting overhaul, SB 202, allows the state to take over a county’s election board if state lawmakers initiate a performance review of a failing or poorly performing county during elections.

Fulton County’s board has been eyed for a takeover, but the AJC’s Mark Niesse reports Coffee County, which recently had a data breach that made national headlines, has not. Mark explains:

The difference is that the takeover process in Fulton was initiated by a group of Republican state legislators who wanted to investigate their own county, while Coffee is represented entirely by Republican lawmakers who are less willing to invite a state review that could lead to replacing its elections board.

Coffee's legislators said they'd rather let the GBI and secretary of state's office investigate than take immediate action on their own.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


ABORTION CONTORTIONS. The AJC’s Maya Prabhu visited multiple Atlanta-area abortion clinics to find out how they — and Georgia women — are reacting to the state’s new restrictive abortion law.

Prabhu found that patients beyond the state’s early abortion ban are being turned away, and often then travel out of state to find a clinic where an abortion would still be legal.

Planned Parenthood's health centers in northern, southern and eastern Florida saw a 40% increase in patients seeking abortions after the Georgia restrictions took effect last month, spokeswoman Christina Noce said. Volume increased by 27% in Tallahassee and 40% in Jacksonville, the two clinics closest to Georgia. The majority of out-of-state patients come from Georgia, an average of 60 to 70 a week.

“People will drive through the night," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “We also see people in Miami, if they can get a plane."

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Even with the new restrictions, at least one Atlanta clinic told Prabhu they believe they can “survive the moment and come out the other side.”


PERSONNEL NEWS: Farewell and congrats to Katie Byrd, the lead spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Kemp, who is headed to join the corporate communications team of Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern.

Byrd is a veteran communications specialist your Insiders first met on the 2014 campaign trail. She worked for Gov. Nathan Deal, the state economic development department, and Attorney General Chris Carr before joining Kemp.


SEE YOU THERE. Join Greg Bluestein, Patricia Murphy and the rest of the AJC politics team on Tuesday, Sept. 6th for an evening with the AJC at the Georgia Aquarium.

Panels of AJC journalists will talk food, sports, and of course politics, with Greg and Patricia anchoring a conversation with Georgia newsmakers on the state of the state as the midterm elections race closer. Reserve your tickets at


TALK TO US. The AJC wants to hear from Georgia voters ahead of the midterm elections about which issues you want candidates to be talking about.

It’s not a scientific survey, but we’ll use responses from Georgia readers to help guide our coverage going forward. Find the survey here.

You could even win a $100 Kroger gift card.


AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to, and Tell us what you like — and what we could do better.