The Jolt: Loudermilk’s Jan. 5 tour creates he said/they said controversy

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday released photos from a Capitol complex tour led by Rep. Barry Loudermilk the day before the attack.

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The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday released photos from a Capitol complex tour led by Rep. Barry Loudermilk the day before the attack.

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

The video of Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk escorting a group of constituents through the halls of U.S. House office buildings has become a political Rorschach Test of sorts.

It’s clear that the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol — plus a good portion of the millions of people who have now seen the video too — believe it shows the Cassville Republican either knowingly or unknowingly escorting around Donald Trump supporter who arrived in Washington wanting to harm Democratic members of Congress.

That man, who has not been identified, has not been charged with any crimes. But he is shown in footage making veiled threats toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others as he marched to the Capitol.

Loudermilk and his allies, including fellow GOP member Rodney Davis, insist the video from the tour shows nothing more than interested Americans taking photos and videos as they walk the hallways of democracy.

While critics assume the man took a photo of a stairwell because he was casing the building, Loudermilk says it’s more likely that a golden eagle sconce on the wall caught his attention.

Loudermilk and other conservatives have accused the Jan. 6 Committee of using the footage to mislead the public and turn people against him. Wednesday night, he released a compilation of threatening phone calls his office has received and accused the committee of putting his safety in jeopardy.

“Once again, instead of contacting me directly, the committee has released carefully edited and select information to the press, with the clear intention of creating a false narrative about the visit to my office by constituents on January 5, 2021,” the Cassville Republican said in a statement. “I, my family, and my staff continue to receive serious threats of violence. I hold the J6 committee members and their staff directly responsible for these unfounded accusations and threats.”

The committee has written Loudermilk two letters asking him to answer questions on the record about the tour, but his office tells us the letters were not sent to him directly and therefore they have nothing to respond to.

But to some Democrats, the footage alone confirmed what they feared all along. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, of New Jersey, was among the members who in the weeks immediately after the insurrection raised concerns that Republicans may have aided rioters by conducting “reconnaissance tours.”

“The video evidence released today by the bipartisan January 6th Committee, combined with the constantly shifting narrative and misdirection from Representatives Barry Loudermilk and Rodney Davis, calls into question their dedication to our common oath as members of Congress,” Sherrill said in a statement.

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TODAY’S HEARING. The January 6 Committee hosts its third public hearing this afternoon with a focus on the intense pressure President Donald Trump put on his second-in-command, Vice President Mike Pence, to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

Former appeals court Judge Michael Luttig will share why he advised Pence not to go along with the plan cooked up by conservative attorney John Eastman. Pence aide Greg Jacob is expected to talk about what the vice president experienced on Jan. 6 and the threats to his safety.

Expect references to Georgia throughout, as Eastman’s plan led to the slate of “fake electors” that the state’s GOP leaders carried out.

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TAXING TIFF. Gov. Brian Kemp and his allies laced into Stacey Abrams this week over her fiscal policy, accusing her of being “silent” over whether she’ll support a roughly $1 billion income tax cut.

Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell called it “disqualifying.” Garrison Douglas of the RNC said she has “no business” running for office if she doesn’t answer. The Republican Governors Association said it’s “high time” she announced her stance.

We weren’t sure if Abrams had said anything publicly about the income tax cut, so we checked in with her campaign. Seth Bringman, her spokesman, told us she wouldn’t support repealing the income tax break.

“Stacey has made clear she will not raise any taxes, she has clearly laid out how she will pay for her plans, and none of her plans to date or in the future will raise taxes,” Bringman said.

He continues:

Because Stacey already rejected any tax increases, we don’t need to flatter Brian Kemp for signing himself and his donors a big tax giveaway as part of his spending of — and credit-taking for — the resources delivered to Georgians from federal Democratic leaders. Stacey has been clear about which items of Kemp’s disastrous agenda she will work to repeal, starting with his criminal carry gun bill and his ban on abortion at six weeks — before most women even know they’re pregnant.”

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WAIT THERE’S MORE. The Daily Beast reports that Herschel Walker has revealed he had yet another son that he didn’t disclose publicly, along with a daughter he had in college. That is in addition to the 10-year-old the Daily Beast discovered in a blockbuster Tuesday report.

That means Walker, a Republican who has long criticized absentee Black fathers, has three children he previously didn’t disclose. Christian, a 22-year-old conservative commentator, was Walker’s only publicly known child until this week.

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RUN FOR COVER. We’re hearing from 10th Congressional District residents ready for the GOP battle there to wrap up. Exhausted locals are getting bombarded with mailers and robocalls, some of which aren’t family friendly fare.

The latest mail drop, sent from a Jolt regular, features a chart comparing Collins to Jones. The “Family,” column lists Collins’ three children, three grandchildren, and “traditional values.”

Vernon Jones’ column reads this way: “Never married. No kids. Alternative lifestyle.”

The “Ethics” section says that Jones, “Has been credibly accused of rape, harassment, and abuse,” alluding to previous rape allegations against Jones, which have been reported by the AJC.

And a section titled “Race,” says that Collins, who is white, “Believes in a Color-Blind Society.” For Jones, who is Black, the mailer includes details of a judgment against him in a reverse-discrimination lawsuit over his time as CEO of DeKalb County.

Jones’ response came Wednesday night from Donald Trump, in the form of a lengthy robocall to voters.

Trump says Jones was “with the MAGA movement early” and says the recent Republican convert is, “A man who’s been very unfairly treated with vicious political ads that aren’t true. It’s a very standard play. Welcome to politics, I said to a couple of people. It’s a vicious thing. Shouldn’t happen. Shouldn’t be allowed to happen. But Vernon…is above it all.”

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TAKING SIDES. Gov. Brian Kemp stepped out this morning to endorse Mike Collins over Vernon Jones in the 10th District race, using some of his capital as the most popular Republican in Georgia to try to seal Jones’ defeat. The former Democrat has confined to rail against Kemp, calling him a phony Republican. Read more here.

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RUNOFF WATCH. Another runoff we’re keeping a close eye on is the Democratic match in the 1st Congressional District, where political newcomer Wade Herring and two-time Democratic nominee Joyce Marie Griggs will face off on Tuesday.

The most fascinating piece of this battle to challenge U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter in the fast-growing coastal district may be the money. It’s solidly Republican now, but Democrats hope with time the demographics in this region will shift the seat more in their favor.

Herring has raised $755,234, while Griggs pulled about $24,000. But the budget-priced Griggs campaign won about 48.6% of the vote on Election Day, compared to Herring’s 38%.

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WORLD CUP. Georgia could get a dose of good news later today when FIFA, the international soccer federation, announces its list of about 16 host cities for the 2026 World Cup. Gov. Brian Kemp and others are set to gather at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in hopes of celebrating Atlanta’s winning bid.

A key detail to note from our story this morning on that likelihood:

Georgia lawmakers were so optimistic about Atlanta’s chances that $250,000 was included in next year’s state budget for anticipated public safety costs. That’s just a drop in the bucket, though, for an event likely to cost tens of millions of dollars from private and public sources.

***

PAY RAISE. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced a series of bonuses and pay hikes for city employees, the AJC’s Wilborn Nobles reports, starting with Atlanta police officers, fire fighters, and first responders. The details:

Addressing retention and recruitment issues in the police department was a major issue in the 2021 mayor’s race.

Atlanta Police Department officers, investigators, sergeants and lieutenants will each receive $4,000 bonuses. Police captains, majors and chiefs will receive $1,000 bonuses.

The bonuses, which will be offered to sworn officers of all service tenures, will result in a total-year compensation increase ranging from 5.9% to 10.25%, according to the mayor’s office.

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OCEAN SHIPPING. President Joe Biden will sign into law today a bill that will revise requirements governing ocean shipping in hopes of easing some of the nation’s supply chain issues.

This is a fast action. The House just approved the legislation on Monday, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a bill enrollment ceremony on Tuesday to send it over to Biden.

The bill has bipartisan support, passing the House 369-42. All 42 “no” votes were Republicans, including Georgia Reps. Andrew Clyde and Barry Loudermilk. The Senate approved the legislation in March by voice vote. Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock is among its 30 cosponsors in that chamber and has talked about the need to pass such legislation.

The Port of Savannah, which is the second-largest container port on the East Coast, last month recorded another record month, handling 8.5% more cargo than in April of last year, Georgia Ports Authority officials told the AJC’s Michael Kanell.

Georgia ports have been drawing an increasing amount of trade, growing dramatically since the early weeks of the pandemic. The recent surge is partly because American consumers have continued to spend money on goods, but also because a number of shippers have diverted their ships from other ports.

Biden in this year’s State of the Union address called on Congress to pass legislation to address high prices faced by ocean carriers bringing goods in from overseas. Today’s bill signing will give him and other Democrats a chance to send a message to the American people that they are trying to bring down the cost of goods and address inflation.

***

TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden will sign the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 at the White House.
  • The House January 6 Committee holds its third public hearing; livestream it starting at 1 p.m.
  • The Senate is scheduled to vote on legislation that would expand benefits to veterans to cover any exposure to toxic substances.

***

ENDORSEMENT NEWS:

  • U.S. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise is weighing in on the 6th Congressional District GOP runoff, picking Dr. Rich McCormick over attorney Jake Evans. “Five years ago, ER doctors saved my life,” Scalise said, alluding to his near-fatal shooting during a Congressional baseball practice in 2017. “They understand making life and death decisions under pressure. That’s exactly what we need here in Congress.”
  • Bryan Miller, the grandson of former Gov. Zell Miller, has endorsed Kwanza Hall in the runoff for lieutenant governor. Miller was running for the post until Charlie Bailey switched races and entered that contest, leading Miller to drop out.
  • Former Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway is backing Mark Gonsalves in the GOP runoff in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District. Conway was known for defending a controversial immigrant detention program. Gonsalves and his opponent, Mike Corbin, have tussled recently over the issue with Gonsalves taking a more hardline approach while Corbin backs a pathway to citizenship. The runoff winner will face U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath in the general election for the Democratic-leanings seat.
  • Tea Party Express, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Tea Party political group, endorsed Jeremy Hunt in the GOP runoff Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District.

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FOX NEWS FAVORITE. Chris West, the other Republican candidate in the 2nd Congressional District runoff, has cried foul over his inability to get the same coverage on Fox News as his opponent, Jeremy Hunt.

Columbus-based WRBL News 3 reported that Hunt has made 15 appearances on Fox channels since Jan. 13, “while his opponents have basically been shut out by the network.”

Hunt finished first in the primary and West finished second, but neither made it to 50% to avoid a runoff for the chance to face incumbent U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop in the general election.

The dynamics of the race have evolved into describing West as the hometown kid with deep ties to the district and Hunt as the well-financed candidate with an impressive resume — West Point and Yale Law — backed by national interests.

Wayne Johnson, who finished third in the primary and has endorsed West, told WRBL that Fox News is trying to influence the outcome of the race.

“It is not their fingers on the scales,” he told the station. “They put a dump truck on the scale.”

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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