The Jolt: Judge raps Fani Willis fundraiser: ‘The optics are horrific.’

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

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert C. I. McBurney scolded Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in court Thursday for hosting a fundraiser for Charlie Bailey, the Democratic opponent of GOP state Sen. Burt Jones.

Jones is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor who has also been notified by Willis’ office that he is one of several targets of the special grand jury investigating former president Donald Trump for election interference.

The AJC’s Tamar Hallerman reported this week that Jones had requested that Willis be disqualified from the case because of the fundraiser. While McBurney did not take that step, Tamar writes did have strong words for Willis.

“I don’t know that it’s an actual conflict, but… it’s a ‘what are you thinking’ moment,” McBurney said.

A lawyer for Willis’ office pointed out that the fundraiser was for Bailey’s Democratic runoff, not the race against Jones. But the New York Times notes that McBurney had more to say:

“The optics are horrific," he said, adding that it created at least an appearance problem. “If we are at a cocktail party and people are asking, ‘Do you think that this is a fair and balanced approach to things?'" he said, and continued, “Well, how do you explain this?" He also expressed concern that the district attorney, as “the legal adviser to the grand jury," was “on national media almost nightly talking about this investigation.

Criticism aside, efforts to remove prosecutors have been tried, unsuccessfully, in other Trump-related cases.

- The New York Times


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TAG TEAM. Ahead of the primary between Gov. Brian Kemp and David Perdue, Herschel Walker notably said he was “mad at both of them” for GOP infighting. By May, he still wouldn’t say which of the two he backed.

But now that Walker is atop the ticket with Kemp, he told reporters at a stop at Jaemor Farms in Alto on Thursday that he plans to partner on the campaign trail with the governor.

“It will be a tag team,” he said. “It will be a tag team with anyone else who is running on the Republican ticket.”

Though both Kemp and Walker share a love for Bulldog football and the legendary college town of Athens, they have not yet cozied up to each other on the campaign trail.

Walker wouldn’t endorse Kemp ahead of the primary, perhaps in part to avoid alienating Donald Trump, who made defeating the governor one of his top priorities.

And the two haven’t staged a public event together since they each won their May 24 contests, despite Walker’s frequent talk about a desire to hold a GOP unity rally.


LEAN KEMP. The Cook Political Report, which is essential reading for inside-the-Beltway politicos, has changed its ranking of the Georgia governor’s race from “Toss Up” to “Lean Republican.”

Jessica Taylor writes that Kemp “looked like the most vulnerable Republican incumbent on the map” at the beginning of the year. But his decisive win over former Sen. David Perdue, along with his ability to coalesce Republican voters in the face of Donald Trump’s fury, has transformed his outlook for November.

Ratings change, and time will tell, but it’s a big boost for Kemp today.


TOO LATE. The House January 6 Committee held its final hearing of the current series Thursday night when witnesses, video evidence, and taped depositions showed former President Donald Trump watching television at the White House for more than two hours as the U.S. Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6.

As the violence at the Capitol intensified, the committee presented texts that showed Trump allies, including Fox News hosts and at least House members from Georgia, desperately pleading with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to get Trump to tell his supporters to leave the building.

At 2:28 p.m., U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene texted, “Mark, I was just told there was an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol Please tell the President to calm people This isn’t the way to solve anything.”

At 2:44 p.m., U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk wrote, “They have breached the Capitol,” and “It’s really bad up here on the hill.”

After more pleas from members of Congress, White House staff and his family, Trump eventually taped a message from the Rose Garden at 4:03, hours after the riot began.

After falsely claiming several times that the election had been stolen, Trump told the rioters, “So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.”


GET OUT. Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has seen enough. Duncan, an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, praised the work of the Jan. 6 committee and said the new revelations should disqualify the former president from running again.


SHAFER CHASER? The race to replace embattled Georgia GOP chair David Shafer is already taking shape.

DeKalb County GOP chair Marci McCarthy said when Shafer decides not to run again, she’ll compete for the spot. “And when that time comes, I will win.”

Shafer hasn’t said yet whether he’ll seek another term as the party’s leader, but he’s faced a torrent of controversies.

He’s alienated Republican incumbents by backing Donald Trump-backed challengers and amplified Russian propaganda after the invasion of Ukraine.

Most significantly, he’s been notified by the Fulton County district attorney he could face criminal charges for his role in the fake GOP elector plot to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.


REMATCH ATTACK. Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign typically ignores online attacks from Democrat Stacey Abrams. But a late Thursday tweet brought a different reaction.

It started when Abrams tweeted that a Kemp victory would give him a chance to “restrict our right to contraception, the right to marry the people we love and the right to exist.”

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell responded swiftly, saying that the governor would not seek to do any of those things if he wins a second term.

He continued: “While Abrams runs a campaign to appease her Twitter base, Governor Kemp will keep fighting to build a safer, stronger Georgia for all who call our state home.”

That brought a rejoinder from Abrams spokesman Alex Floyd who chided Republicans for treating it like a “Twitter issue.”

“Here’s the reality: under Brian Kemp’s ban, Georgia women will have at most two weeks to seek out abortion care after figuring out they are pregnant. Miscarriages could become police investigations. Women and girls could die waiting on care,” Floyd said.


DIGITAL DISCOUNT. Vice President Kamala Harris is asking Gov. Brian Kemp to help get more Georgians enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a new program to bring affordable internet service to low income households.

Harris, in a letter to the governor, wrote that as many as 1.1 million eligible Georgians still haven’t signed up to receive discounts of up to $30 per month on their internet bills, along with a one-time $100 discount on the purchase of a laptop, tablet or desktop computer.

It’s part of $65 billion to expand internet access provided in the infrastructure law that President Joe Biden signed last year. Check your eligibility and sign up at

Federal funding is also paying for a major expansion of rural broadband in Georgia.

Earlier this year, Kemp announced $408 million worth of federal COVID-19 relief money will fund internet projects in 70 counties where residents have little or no options for internet service.


PHARMACISTS WORRY. Pharmacists say Georgia’s evolving restrictions around access to abortion coupled with recent guidance from the federal government have created confusion over distribution of medication that can terminate pregnancies.

The Biden administration earlier this month warned pharmacists nationwide that they are required to fill prescriptions for pills that can induce abortion. Refusing to give out the prescribed medication “may be discriminating” on the basis of sex or disability and could amount to a violation of federal civil rights laws, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

Bob Coleman, CEO of the Georgia Pharmacy Association, said the organization is working with national pharmacy associations to get clarity.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a pharmacist by trade, condemned the guidance from HHS, describing it as a “gross abuse of executive authority.”



  • The U.S. House and Senate are done for the week.
  • President Joe Biden is quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19, although the White House said he is participating in virtual meetings.


PROTECTING CONTRACEPTION. The U.S. House voted largely along party lines to approve legislation Thursday that would protect access to contraception following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Eight Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats in supporting the measure. None were from Georgia. The state’s delegation split along party lines with all eight GOP members opposed.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams was one of the lead cosponsors on the legislation.

“I’ve used contraception as a treatment for my struggle with endometriosis,” the Atlanta Democrat said in a statement prior to the vote. “We shouldn’t have to fight to keep our right to this essential healthcare.”


FIRST LADY FLY IN. First lady Jill Biden was in Athens Thursday visiting a summer program for children located on the University of Georgia’s campus.

The AJC’s Cassidy Alexander writes that the purpose of the visit was to highlight the impact of federal aid to help students make up for learning losses during the pandemic.

Biden, who traveled with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, met with elementary school-age children attending the summer program and their parents.


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