The Jolt: Fani Willis takes center stage in the Trump show

08/04/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Fani Willis at her law firm office in Midtown Atlanta on August 4, 2020, one week before winning a run-off election against Fulton County's then-district attorney Paul Howard. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
08/04/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Fani Willis at her law firm office in Midtown Atlanta on August 4, 2020, one week before winning a run-off election against Fulton County's then-district attorney Paul Howard. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Photos to vote, Abrams’ Times note, and QAnon side show lead the day

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is about to become the most watched local prosecutor in the nation.

The newly elected Democrat launched a criminal investigation earlier this week into whether former President Donald Trump violated Georgia law by urging state officials to overturn his election defeat.

In an interview with the AJC, Willis said she didn’t have any “predetermined opinions” about the case and she disabused her critics of the notion that she was a political opportunist: “I’m not trying to make a name for myself.”

She spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow late Thursday to elaborate on her plans, which could involve witness subpoenas as soon as March, when the Fulton County grand jury convenes.

Willis said that while the investigation centers on Trump’s extraordinary call demanding that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” enough votes to reverse his election defeat, it “seems that it will go past just this one phone call.”

The notices her office sent out made that clear: Along with Raffensperger, Willis instructed Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Attorney General Chris Carr to preserve documents that could be pivotal in the case.

That was an indication that Trump’s push for Kemp to call a special session would be a focus of the investigation, along with state Senate hearings featuring falsehoods by Trump attorneys.

Willis said she’s been subjected to an avalanche of racist threats since the news broke on Wednesday, but that brushed them off as “foolishness.” She also described her strategy, honed by roughly two decades as a prosecutor.

“What I know about investigations is they’re kind of like peeling back an onion. And as you go through each layer, you learn different things. To be a responsible prosecutor, you must look at all those things in an investigation, to be fair to everyone involved.”

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Atlanta attorney David Schoen is expected to do much of the talking today as Trump’s defense attorneys work to convince U.S. senators that the former president should not be convinced for inciting the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Punchbowl News reports Schoen briefed reporters on his plan to counter House managers’ arguments:

“They built sort of a false dichotomy here, either you condemn what he said and find him guilty or, there’s no middle ground there is no possibility of thinking what he said, maybe, you know, was inappropriate.

“I happen to think if you analyze that speech that, first of all, under no circumstances could be incitement, it’s a powerful speech, but when you use the word ‘fight’ most of the times during the case, it’s clear he’s talking about legislators fighting for our rights, people fighting to advocate and you know everyone likes to overlook the word ‘peacefully’ in there.”

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is expected to attend a bipartisan meeting later Friday in the Oval Office with President Biden to discuss the administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic aid package.

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There have been plenty of piecemeal voting measures that have popped up in the state Capitol over the last few weeks that are likely to go nowhere. But statehouse insiders have been waiting for another package that might have legs.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, the top Republicans in the Senate, served notice on Thursday that he’s set to introduce a comprehensive elections overhaul next week.

“We’ve spent several hundred hours doing research and policy development around election integrity,” he said in a tweet. “I’ve gone through election code for 50 states and reviewed policies and processes around the U.S.”

On a similar note, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger penned a column in USA Today on Thursday that amplified his endorsement of what’s certain to be in Dugan’s package: A requirement of photo ID for absentee ballots.

Wrote Raffensperger:

“Though rare, there is illegal voting in every election. Absentee ballot voting is done out of sight of elections officials and is the most vulnerable link in the chain. Adding photo ID is necessary to shore up confidence in the absentee ballot process.”

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a likely Democratic challenger to Raffensperger next year, responded thusly on Twitter:

“*Some* people lack confidence because Republicans sowed seeds of doubt re:absentee ballots early, including the SOS — before results of the primary or general. In every governmental affairs committee. They had no doubts from 2005-2019, when Republicans used absentee voting more.”

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Count Lowcountry doctor, state Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) in for SB 67, state Sen. Jason Anavitarte’s (R-Dallas) bill requiring photo ID to both request and submit an absentee ballot.

Watson tells the Savannah Morning News, “If you have to get an ID to vote in person, and you have to have an ID to vote the day of, you certainly should have to have an ID to vote absentee.”

Dr. Watson isn’t wedded to the double-dipper ID requirement, though. He’s open, the Morning News reports, to “the method chosen to be the best way to verify a voter’s identity.”

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The state Senate passed two bills Thursday to combat human trafficking, Beau Evans reports for Capitol Beat News Service:

“One bill sponsored by state Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, would allow human-trafficking victims to sue their traffickers in civil court for monetary damages.

“The other bill, also sponsored by Dixon, would shield human-trafficking victims from public scrutiny if they seek to legally change their names by keeping name-change petitions under seal.”

Both bills had the backing of not just Gov. Brian Kemp, but more importantly, First Lady Marty Kemp, who announced plans for the legislation just a few weeks ago.

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U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter will serve as one of the National Republican Campaign Committee’s deputy chairs during the 2022 election cycle. He will help recruit and raise money for GOP candidates running in competitive U.S. House seats.

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Redistricting, namely the process of redrawing the boundaries for Georgia’s 14 congressional seats, 56 Senate seats and 180 House seats, is currently scheduled to happen during a special state legislative session in September.

But the New York Times reports that the Census figures legislators need to redraw districts have been delayed from April until late September. Experts say the delay could affect the balance of power in Congress and state legislatures and have a particular impact for years in states with fast-changing populations, like Georgia.

“The delay means there will be less time for the public hearings and outside comment required in many states, and less time once maps are drawn to contest new district lines in court, as often happens after redistricting.”

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Stacey Abrams takes up the topic of Census counts and gerrymandering in a lengthy piece for the New York Times titled “How to turn your Red State Blue.”

Writing with Lauren Groh-Wargo, the CEO of Fair Fight Action, the tome details the 10-year plan Democrats used to slowly inch up their share of both the registered vote and turnout in key elections.

“It may take 10 years,” they write. “Do it anyway.”

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Unpacking the latest American Perspectives Survey from the American Enterprise Institute will take you a minute. But just a few of the findings you’ll want to jump into:

  • 63% of self-identified Republicans say they consider themselves to be more of a supporter of the Republican Party rather than a supporter of Trump;
  • Nearly two-thirds, 65%, of Republicans believe in widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election;
  • Compare that to 2016, when 18% of Democrats, 20% of independents, and 27% of Republicans believe there was evidence of election fraud.
  • One of the most bizarre QAnon conspiracy theories has gained real traction in the GOP, with nearly three in 10 Republicans saying the claim that Trump was fighting a global child sex trafficking ring is mostly (17 percent) or completely (12 percent) accurate.

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The Cobb County Board of Education voted 4-3 Thursday night to extend superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s contract to three years, reports the Marietta Daily Journal, with Democrats on the board voting no.

Ragsdale made national news last month when he and two board members refused to wear face masks during a moment of silence for a teacher who died from complications related to COVID-19, even after another teacher asked them to do so out of respect for the teacher who died.

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Under the Gold Dome:

  • Relax! The House and Senate are in recess Friday and Monday.
  • Sessions resume Tuesday, Feb. 16th.

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