The Jolt: Kemp fight with Fulton DA Willis spills into public view

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

To the outside world, Gov. Brian Kemp seemed poised to cooperate with Fulton County investigators delving into Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 defeat. Behind closed doors, it has been far, far messier.

The brutal infighting emerged into public view in a 122-page court filing first reported by our AJC colleague Tamar Hallerman. Deep in the legal document by Kemp’s team, which aims to kill a subpoena seeking his testimony, are emails that paint a vivid portrait of a frayed relationship.

The correspondence starts with a cordial back-and-forth but soon took on a nastier tone after Kemp attorney Brian McEvoy accused prosecutors of moving the goalposts and of presiding over a flawed investigation.

That prompted a scathing email from District Attorney Fani Willis accusing McEvoy of conduct “beneath an officer of the court.”

“We have been working with you in good faith for months. You have been rude and disparaging to my staff. You have been less than honest about conversations that have taken place,” Willis wrote, adding:

“There is an old adage that people take kindness for weakness. You have taken my kindness for weakness and you have continually treated this investigation with disdain. Despite your disdain this investigation continues and will not be derailed by anyone’s antics.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a press conference at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta last year. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

What led to this broadside?

For weeks, the back-and-forth between Kemp’s lawyer and Fulton prosecutors seemed collegial and several emails noted Kemp’s cooperative approach. Then in early June, McEvoy reported a “troubling phone call” in which he said he was told that all prior arrangements they had made were off the table.

McEvoy called it a “dramatic change of tone” that was accompanied by a “disappointing” threat to subpoena. Then in July, the correspondence took an even sharper approach.

In the motion seeking a delay, state attorneys said investigators “intentionally attempted to elicit privileged information” and “retaliated” against a former Kemp staffer who testified before the grand jury.

A July 20 email from McEvoy goes into further detail. He said prosecutors failed to acknowledge a “fundamental and obvious privilege during Mr. Hall’s recent grand jury appearance.” It’s a reference to Cody Hall, who left his official office to work on his campaign.

“Given the politically motivated nature of the office’s ongoing investigation and the fact that we are now in an election cycle in Georgia, we are also concerned about potential leaks of substantive testimony,” McEvoy wrote.

Hours later, Willis sent her missive.

Soon after, Kemp was scheduled to testify, which was supposed to happen today at 9 a.m. The governor’s office said the appearance has been delayed while lawyers hash out the legal issues. But the DA’s office offered a telling glimpse into what they’re looking for in a follow-up email to Kemp’s counsel.

Investigators seek any document that “explains what former President Trump was thinking or doing or those working on his behalf,” files regarding efforts by Trump or his allies to influence the results, and any recordings of witnesses that “provide context and understanding” of the 2020 vote.


POLITICAL PUNCHES. Democrats quickly accused Gov. Brian Kemp of trying to cozy up to Donald Trump with his effort to avoid testifying before the November midterms.

Max Flugrath of the Democratic Party of Georgia contended that Kemp is “terrified about getting on Trump’s bad side and doing all he can to avoid further attacks” ahead of November.

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell countered with a dig at Flugrath, who recently worked in Florida, aka UGA football’s rival to the south: “When you hire political consultants from Florida, you get statements that make about as much sense as Dan Mullen’s offense over the last few years.”

(That’s a reference to former University of Florida coach Dan Mullen for the casual and non-sports fans among our readers.)


HOUSING, NOT SALARY. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock can no longer receive his old salary as head pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church because of Senate ethics rules limiting outside employment.

The AJC’s Shannon McCaffrey and Tia Mitchell have now learned that the bulk of the money he received from the church during the 2021 calendar year — $89,000 or about $7,417 a month — came in the form of an “annual parsonage allowance.” The Senate Ethics Committee signed off on this arrangement, according to recently filed financial disclosures.

As we told you in Wednesday’s Jolt, these disclosures revealed that Warnock made roughly $121,000 in salary and benefits from Ebenezer during the 2021 calendar year. That made us curious about how one of the few members of Congress juggling a full-time job worked within the limitations on outside compensation.

McCaffrey and Mitchell spoke to ethics experts who said Warnock’s arrangement with Ebenezer was unusual but appears to be within the rules.

Warnock’s opponent in November, Republican Herschel Walker, has faced questions about his own financial disclosures.


AIR RUDY. After a lengthy back and forth with Fulton County prosecutors seeking a delay in his testimony, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani made it to Atlanta Wednesday to appear before the Fulton County special grand jury.

Giuliani was spotted by your eagle-eyed AJC team heading into court with his attorney and Vernon Jones, the Democrat-turned-Republican who remained a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump throughout Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

We don’t know what Giuliani said behind closed doors to the grand jury, since it’s a secret process, but he reported that DA Fani Willis let him know he had satisfied the requirements of his subpoena.

And despite his attorneys’ contention that Giuliani could not fly to Georgia to meet with prosecutors, he was interviewed by the AP Wednesday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport after landing safely from his trip to Atlanta.


DOUBLE DUTY. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock was on official and campaign duty in Georgia Wednesday with an event at Robins Air Force Base in the morning, followed by campaign rallies in Warner Robins and Dublin later in the day.

The base visit also brought out U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, a Democrat of Rhode Island, and Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who all talked up future potential missions for the massive base in Middle Georgia.

Warnock also talked up the recently passed CHIPS bill that will create regional tech hubs for research and innovation, including in cities like Warner Robins. “This means jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.

At a campaign stop down the road, Warnock was interrupted with cheers of “thank you, thank you” as he promoted the federal climate change and tax measure that President Joe Biden just signed into law.

Warnock will be on the road again today with rallies and events planned for Milledgeville, Eatonton, Conyers and Stonecrest.


WOMEN FOR WALKER. Country music, barbecue and Herschel Walker proved to be so popular Wednesday night in Kennesaw that the fire marshal capped attendance at a “Women for Herschel” event at 500.

The format included an introduction from former U.S Sen. Kelly Loeffler, multiple prayers, brief remarks from Walker, and a conversation on stage between the former UGA footballer and several prominent GOP women, moderated by Walker’s wife, Julie.

He used his time to both call for unity and forgiveness among Americans, but also slam U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Democrats in Washington.

“They’re not telling you the truth,” Walker said. “They’re not misleading you — they’re lying to you.”

At several points, he mocked the idea that anyone can be transgender.

“We gotta not let them fool us with all those lies, that men can get pregnant. I’d love to see a baby come from a man. I’d love to see what it is,” he said.

And he warned that the Democrats’ recently passed climate, health care and tax bill is targeted at people living paycheck-to-paycheck, although the tax increase in the bill is for corporations that make more than $1 billion annually.

“They are going to tax you, don’t think they’re just coming after the wealthy. All that gets passed down,” Walker said.


NOEM NOD. Speaking of “Women for Herschel,” Walker picked up an endorsement Wednesday from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

Standing next to Walker in a taped endorsement, Noem said Democrats have a “socialist, Marxist agenda that’s taking over the country” and claimed that Warnock is “one of the biggest instigators.”

“We need to take him out,” Noem said. “Herschel’s the guy.”


HEAR ME NOW. Georgia U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter is celebrating the implementation of a federal law that would allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter.

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it had finalized its rule to allow for the change. It implements a law passed by Congress in 2017 that directed the FDA to create a category of OTC hearing aids.

Progress was slow, but President Joe Biden signed an executive order last year that, among other things, gave the FDA four months to come up with a plan to make the law a reality.

Carter, R-Pooler, helped introduce the hearing aid provision that was included in the 2017 law. In a statement this week, he celebrated that work coming to fruition.

“Only 1 in 5 Americans who need a hearing aid use one, mainly due to the four-figure price tag,” he wrote. “This rule will open doors and improve the health and well-being of patients nationwide. As a pharmacist and long-time advocate of over-the-counter hearing aids, I applaud the FDA for taking this common-sense, bipartisan step.”


LEADERSHIP RACE. We’ve told you before that U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson is in line to have to a leadership role in the Republican conference if his party takes back the majority in the U.S. House after the midterms.

In its morning newsletter, Punchbowl News outlines the steps Ferguson has taken as one of several contenders to serve as Republican Whip under a new majority. The West Point Republican currently serves as chief deputy to current GOP Whip Steve Scalise.

Punchbowl writes that Ferguson has hired Annie Wolf, “a high-profile longtime leadership staffer, as his chief of staff,” and his political director is Tyler Daniel, who served the same role under Scalise.

“This was seen as a sign of an increased commitment to the leadership ladder,” Punchbowl wrote.


SMOOTH TRAFFIC FOR WEATHERS. Doug Weathers, the legendary former Savannah anchor whose WTOC studio was a frequent stop for any statewide candidate, will now be part of all Savannahians’ daily drives around his fair city.

The Savannah Morning News reports that state Rep. Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City, officially dedicated the “Doug Weathers Interchange” at I-516 and Highway 17 last week after the state Senate greenlit the naming earlier this year.

The state Senate passed the resolution earlier this year to name the interchange after 90-year-old Weathers, who retired in 2001 after 41 years in Savannah news, but remains a local celebrity so popular he’s been dubbed “the Elvis of Savannah.


FIRST LADY’S 95th. Happy birthday to former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who turns 95 today. The AJC’s Ernie Suggs reports on the many ways Carter is being celebrated, from the dedication of a new butterfly sculpture in Plains to a hashtag on Twitter to highlight her advocacy over the years.

Birthday plans tonight include a family dinner at home of beef liver and homegrown corn. Former President Jimmy Carter will turn 98 in October.


HAPPENING TODAY. You’re invited to a special event just for Jolt subscribers. Join the three of us — Patricia Murphy, Tia Mitchell and Greg Bluestein — today at noon (ET) for a special online briefing about the state of the Georgia races.

We’ll discuss what we’re seeing on the campaign trail and take your questions on all things #gapol.

RSVP here.

"Georgia Races are on Fire" online event featuring AJC politics team

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