The Jolt: Trump’s Georgia allies slam FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks to media while campaigning in Rome on Monday, May 2, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks to media while campaigning in Rome on Monday, May 2, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Democrats are on a winning streak. A federal climate and tax package is on the cusp of reaching President Joe Biden’s desk. Financial indicators show inflation is slowing. His administration presided over the killing of Al-Qaeda’s leader and NATO’s expansion.

Could the FBI’s growing probe into the final stage of Donald Trump’s presidency, crystallized by the search of his Florida estate Monday, threaten to distract attention from that momentum?

The FBI search came as Trump nears an announcement for what is likely to be a third bid for the White House, a move that could help inoculate him from investigations like the ongoing Fulton County special grand jury probe into his attempts to reverse his 2020 defeat.

Some Georgia Republicans privately – and a handful publicly – predicted the widening probe could energize Trump supporters who see the ongoing investigation as a witch hunt.

“If Donald Trump is elected president in 2024,” said former state Sen. Josh McKoon, “Aug. 8, 2022 will be seen as the day that made it possible.”

Trump’s staunchest Georgia allies in Congress, including GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker, came to his defense Tuesday morning, calling for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s impeachment.

“If they can do this to a former President they can do it to any one of us. Merrick Garland must resign or be impeached,” Walker said in a statement. “This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a matter of right and wrong.”

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, accused Democrats of “weaponizing” the FBI and called for a congressional investigation into bureau if Republicans take control of Congress in November.

“DEFUND THE FBI!” Greene tweeted.

Other Georgia Republicans were more circumspect. U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk called the FBI search “unprecedented and highly concerning.” Still others, like Gov. Brian Kemp, stayed mum.

Democrats had a ready response to the FBI’s activity. State Rep. Scott Holcomb, a DeKalb Democrat and former prosecutor, said “undoubtedly the evidence of probable cause was extremely strong and carefully reviewed.”

“And it had to be approved by a federal judge,” he said. “The reaction by some conservatives, crying of victimization and condemning law enforcement, is stunning.”

***

ATLANTA CONNECTION. A reminder that Donald Trump nominated the current FBI director, Atlanta attorney Chris Wray, in 2017 after he fired his predecessor, James Comey, amid a probe into whether the then-president’s advisers conspired with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 vote.

***

PLANES, TRAINS. Lawyers for Rudy Giuliani are expected in Fulton County Superior Court today seeking a delay for the former Trump attorney, who has been subpoenaed to appear in person before the special grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump.

The AJC’s Tamar Hallerman reports that ahead of the hearing, Giuliani’s lawyers said that he was recovering from a recent “invasive procedure” and provided a doctor’s note saying that he was not yet cleared for travel.

But when the Fulton County District Attorney’s office produced a Tweet from a seemingly healthy and smiling Giuliani in New Hampshire with a young woman dated after his procedure, his doctors specified he had not been cleared for air travel.

Even though the DA’s office offered to buy their witness a bus or train ticket to travel South, his lawyers are expected to request a delay until Giuliani’s doctors clear him to fly.

***

COUNTERPROGRAMMING. On the eve of Stacey Abrams’ rollout of her economic agenda slated for Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp’s aides revealed that later this week he will unveil a $1 billion tax refund initiative - the second announced this year - and a separate rebate for homeowners.

Kemp’s campaign also highlighted an op-ed that she wrote for the Athens Banner-Herald in 2009 amid a recession that contended:

“We must acknowledge in a time of economic decline that services have costs, that government is a tool, not a weapon, and that taxes are a current payment and a future investment in a healthy, vibrant community.”

Kemp’s campaign alleged that was proof that Abrams’ philosophy holds that “the solution to (Georgians) problems was more taxes and more government spending.”

Abrams has frequently pledged she would not raise taxes if elected governor and called for a $1 billion tax refund last month nearly identical to the one Kemp will propose this week.

Abrams’ speech is expected to key on arguments that Kemp’s anti-abortion and pro-gun policies hurt Georgia’s business environment, pointing to recent efforts by Democratic governors in other states to woo investment as an example. She will also renew calls for a more targeted surplus-financed tax rebate.

”We’ve got more than $5 billion in the surplus. And rather than sending that money to billionaires and corporations, I want to spend it on Georgians,” she said ahead of her speech. “I want to put it in our pocket.”

***

REMOTE RABBLE ROUSERS. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney has had his hands full with several high profile cases recently.

But he had even more to juggle than usual Monday during a hearing where lawyers argued for and against a temporary injunction of the state’s new restrictive abortion law while a larger challenge to its constitutionality works its way through state courts.

The in-person proceedings included access over Zoom for the court reporter, who was working remotely. But after the Zoom link was shared publicly, unknown voices began to shout obscenities into the courtroom and disrupt the court’s progress.

As soon as McBurney cut off one participant’s access, another would chime in with more vulgar yelling, only for the judge to try to cut off the new screamer while encouraging lawyers for both sides to forge ahead anyway.

After a temporary delay, the judge moved the online access from Zoom to a live YouTube feed, which he noted would still allow remote viewers, but not with interactive input.

“You can watch and listen, but that’s all you can do other than yell and scream in the privacy of your own space,” he said.

McBurney said that although he could need more input, he’ll work to make a decision about the injunction soon.

***

TIE FOR NUMBER TWO? The race for lieutenant governor is a dead heat, according to an internal poll provided by Democrat Charlie Bailey’s campaign.

A Research Affiliates poll of 420 likely voters showed Bailey neck-and-neck with GOP nominee, state Sen. Burt Jones, 43%-43%.

The same poll also showed a much better result for Democrats in the governor’s race than other polls we’ve seen, with Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams also tied at 47%-47%.

We’ll of course add our usual cautionary note to take all internal polls with a grain of salt, especially when a sample size like this one results in a margin of error of 4.8%.

***

COAN IN COURT. A former Republican candidate for Georgia labor commissioner has filed a defamation lawsuit against an Ohio company over a TV ad that falsely claimed he was embroiled in a human trafficking investigation.

Mike Coan lost the Republican nomination for labor commissioner to GOP state Sen. Bruce Bruce Thompson in the May primary. Last Monday he filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta against Lakeside Communications, an Ohio political consultant that worked for Thompson’s campaign.

Coan’s lawsuit cited an ad that linked him to a government investigation of human trafficking in South Georgia. The investigation led to charges against 24 people last November.

Thompson’s ad showed a picture of Coan under a quote from a USA Today headline that said “current, former government officials tied to human trafficking probe in Georgia.” According to the article, one current and one former Department of Labor official were linked to the probe.

But Coan wasn’t one of them. He became deputy commissioner at the Department of Labor in December 2021 – after federal prosecutors announced the charges and long after the crimes were allegedly committed. The USA Today article does not mention Coan.

A voiceover in the ad called Coan a “career politician and bureaucrat who screwed up the Department of Labor.”

Coan’s lawsuit says he “had absolutely nothing to do with” the human trafficking investigation and Lakeside Communications knew the accusation was false and defamatory. Nonetheless, the lawsuit says the ad appeared on Fox News nearly 400 times.

The defamation lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. But it may not last long. On Thursday U.S. District Judge Victoria Marie Calvert issued an order asking Coan why she should not dismiss the lawsuit because the court lacks jurisdiction.

Even if the federal lawsuit is dismissed, Coan could conceivably file it again in another court. Stay tuned.

***

PERSONNEL NEWS. Hillary Holley, a seasoned strategist and close Stacey Abrams ally, is the new director of Care in Action, a nonprofit that supports millions of domestic workers in the U.S.

“We’re so excited for Hillary’s leadership in the movement for a stronger care economy and a better future for women of color,” the group tweeted.

***

LEARN LIKE LEWIS. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff are planning legislation to create an international study program to honor the legacy of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the AJC’s Eric Stirgus reports.

More:

Twenty five people would be selected annually for the program. The program would operate in accordance with policy guidelines established by the federal government's Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, which promotes other international internships.

Lewis learned his non-violent civil rights strategy in part from studying passive resistance in other parts of the world.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

***

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.

Sign Up to receive the Morning Jolt & AJC Politics newsletters in your inbox. Just click here.