The Jolt: Fani Willis’ Trump probe becomes flashpoint in lieutenant governor’s race

News and analysis from the politics team of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia lieutenant gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Burt Jones (R-Georgia) speaks at a rally as former U.S. President Donald Trump watches on Sept. 25, 2021 in Perry, Georgia. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia lieutenant gubernatorial candidate State Sen. Burt Jones (R-Georgia) speaks at a rally as former U.S. President Donald Trump watches on Sept. 25, 2021 in Perry, Georgia. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/TNS)

We’re watching the fallout from the bombshell development last week that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has informed state Sen. Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, he could face criminal charges for his role as a phony GOP elector in 2020.

Democrats hope the scrutiny from the grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in Georgia will come back to haunt Jones in his November matchup against Democrat Charlie Bailey.

Bailey had already made Jones’ role supporting Trump’s “Stop the Steal” efforts a focus of his campaign. And Bailey’s campaign calculated the attention from the Jones’ news Friday brought him millions of dollars in new earned media attention over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Jones’ campaign filed a motion seeking to disqualify Willis from the case because she hosted a fundraiser for Bailey’s LG bid after Jones won the GOP nod in May.

Bailey and Willis worked together as assistant district attorneys in former Fulton DA Paul Howard’s office. Willis’s office said the endorsement has nothing to do with the focus on Jones, but Jones’ campaign vehemently disagreed.

“This is clearly a politically motivated attack from the same District Attorney who just weeks ago hosted a political fundraiser for Burt’s opponent,” said Jones spokesman Stephen Lawson. “Burt is more than happy to perform his civic duty and answer questions—but not from a prosecutor with such blatant conflicts of interest.”


CLIMATE CHANGES. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff touted a $171 million Qcells expansion in Dalton Friday that will create nearly 500 new jobs and, he said, better position Georgia for a wave of new green jobs.

But back in Washington, West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin was going in the other direction-- saying he could not support climate change and tax increase provisions that were key components of a federal effort to shift even more resources toward solar and other alternative energy sources.

Manchin’s opposition to even a stripped-down climate change measure triggered a scramble in Georgia and Washington to find other options to salvage a key piece of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Biden put out a statement Friday that said if Congress doesn’t act on climate change, he will do it through executive order. But the scope of his executive power is limited compared to what could be done legislatively.

Ossoff made clear that though he was disappointed by Manchin’s decision, he still needed to talk one-on-one with his colleague.

“I need to have a direct conversation and understand exactly where he is and try to find a path forward, whether it is this or another legislative vehicle,” Ossoff said.

“I’m going to continue to support efforts to expand renewable energy, innovation and manufacturing in Georgia and across the country.”


Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., questions nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill Jan. 27, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Leigh Vogel-Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

HEALTH COSTS. Now that Sen. Joe Manchin has forced Democrats to strip climate measures out of a larger spending package, the focus moves to the healthcare proposals that remain in play.

For now, Manchin seems to be on board with proposals to allow the federal government to negotiate the price of some prescription drugs and to extend Affordable Care Act subsidies implemented during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other provisions on the table include support for low-income Medicare recipients’ drug costs, along with capping out-of-pocket drug spending for all Medicare patients to $2,000 annually.

That’s good news for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who has made healthcare affordability a primary focus. Earlier this month Warnock traveled to Fayetteville to host a field hearing for the U.S. Senate Aging Committee that highlighted testimony from seniors and health care officials about the rising costs of prescription drugs.


SWITCH UP. We’re picking up word that Ryan Caudelle has been tapped as the next executive director of the Georgia GOP.

Caudelle, a veteran operative who worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, is set to replace Brandon Moye.

He’s joining the party at a volatile time: Many state Republican leaders are disgusted with GOP chair David Shafer, who sided with the Trump slate in the May primary. And Shafer was recently informed by Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis he could face criminal charges for his role in the fake GOP elector scheme.


CHIPS AHOY? We told you last week that as Democrats fight over what will be included in their reconciliation bill, that conversation has caused a stalemate with Republicans on a separate bill to address competition from China.

The biggest piece of that package is $52 billion to boost domestic production of computer chips.

The chip shortage, caused by supply-chain issues overseas, has snarled U.S. manufacturing, including in Georgia. One high-profile example came when the Kia Plant in West Point was forced to shut down for days at a time during the pandemic because it didn’t have the semiconductors needed to build cars.

Consumers are also seeing the price of electronics and long waits to receive them continue to increase.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent a letter to House and Senate leaders last week saying the funding for computer chips is “critical for our national security.” And now there are signs that Democrats may bring up a standalone bill for the chips funding in the coming weeks.

The House has just two more weeks of work scheduled before the August recess; the Senate has three.


DIGITAL DIGS. The left-leaning Save Democracy PAC is committing $250,000 to a pair of digital ads to boost U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection campaign. The ads will be focused on swing voters in metro Atlanta.

The first addresses Warnock’s work to target price gougers, cap the cost of insulin and strike alliances with Republicans. The second criticizes GOP Senate hopeful Herschel Walker’s pattern of lies and exaggerations.


GREENE’S GREEN. The big bucks rolling into the 14th Congressional District race look more like a governor’s contest than a House seat.

The Rome News-Tribune writes that U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor has brought in $10,246,641 this election cycle and spent $7,973,847.

Her Democratic opponent, Marcus Flowers reported raising $10,762,238 and spending $9,890,245-- with less than four months to go until Election Day.



  • The House returns this evening and has votes scheduled on mostly non-controversial legislation. The Senate continues to focus on confirmations.
  • U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and other progressive Democrats are holding a press conference to talk up their long-shot proposal to increase the number of U.S. Supreme Court justices.


MISTAKES HAPPEN. U.S. Rep. Rick Allen raised eyebrows Friday after he was one of just two lawmakers who voted against legislation that would temporarily suspend tariffs on baby formula imports, an effort to address the shortage that continues to affect families.

Allen, R-Augusta, is a reliable conservative vote, but he isn’t known for going against the grain on non-controversial measures like this one (even Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde supported it). The other “no” came from far-right GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas who has been opposing baby-formula legislation for weeks, according to The Hill.

We received an explanation from Allen’s office even before we were able to ask for it. His chief of staff sent us a copy of the correction form he submitted saying he hit “no” by mistake and meant to vote “yes.”

The form allows Allen to document his true intentions but doesn’t change the tally.


NOT SO FAST. We told you last week about an op-ed in the Savannah Morning News hammering state Sen. Jen Jordan for saying she won’t defend HB 481, the state’s pending restrictive abortion law, if she’s elected attorney general. She’s the Democratic nominee challenging Attorney General Chris Carr.

Savannah attorney Julie Wade responded in kind, writing that Jordan’s position is not just defensible, but more legally sound.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Georgia's ban on abortion was blatantly unconstitutional at both the state and federal levels. Yet (Attorney General Chris) Carr spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to launch an aggressive and unsubstantiated defense of the law in the face of Supreme Court precedent directly contrary to his position.

The attorney general faced a legal conflict between a state statute and both the Georgia and U.S. constitutions and chose to defend the state law. Another elected official, using independent sound legal judgment, could reasonably and soundly make the other choice - the more legally honest choice, as Jordan has pledged.

- The Savannah Morning News


REMEMBERING JOHN LEWIS. The annual John Lewis Memorial Freedom Ride was among the many events over the weekend marking two years since the death of Congressman John Lewis.

Lewis died of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2020. Hundreds of cyclists rode to Lewis’ gravesite in South View Cemetery and then onto his “Hero” mural on Auburn Avenue.

His successor in the U.S. House, Rep. Nikema Williams, attended the ride and also wrote an AJC op-ed framing her work on abortion rights as a continuation of his work. Williams said she has been asked what Lewis, a fellow Atlanta Democrat, would have thought about the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Congressman Lewis would have been furious and hurt,” she wrote. “But most importantly, he would be moved to act, like he did throughout his entire life.”

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network published a tribute essay that included interviews with Lewis’ family members about how they continue to honor his legacy, including raising money and awareness about the disease that took his life.


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