As Trump and Republicans Target Georgia's Fani Willis for Retribution, the State's Governor Opts Out
Jeff Amy READ TIME: 5 MIN.
Some Republicans in Washington and Georgia began attacking Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis immediately after she announced the Aug. 14 indictment of former President Donald Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. But others, including Gov. Brian Kemp, have been conspicuous in their unwillingness to pile on.
Kemp, who had previously survived scathing attacks from Trump over his refusal to endorse the former president's false claims about the election, declined to comment on the indictment of Trump and 18 others at a conservative political conference hosted by radio host and Kemp ally Erick Erickson.
Noting that he had been called before a special grand jury to testify during the investigation, Kemp stated forcefully that Democratic President Joe Biden was the rightful winner of Georgia's 16 electoral votes and said swinging the spotlight to Trump's legal troubles would be a mistake.
"Democrats want us to be focused on things like this, so we're not focused on Joe Biden's record," Kemp told Erickson on Aug. 18.
Trump, meanwhile, has kept up a withering assault on both Willis and Kemp.
"Governor Kemp of Georgia is fighting hard against the impeachment of the crooked, incompetent & highly partisan D.A. of Fulton County, Fani Willis, who has allowed murder and other violent crime to MASSIVELY ESCALATE," the former president wrote Aug. 21 on his Truth Social platform. "Crime in Atlanta is WORST IN NATION. She should be impeached for many reasons, not just the Witch Hunt (I did nothing wrong!)"
There's little evidence to support Trump's claim that crime is escalating – the number of homicides has fallen sharply in Atlanta this year.
Other Georgia Republicans didn't hesitate to assail Willis, with some joining Trump in the call to impeach the Atlanta-based prosecutor.
"Fani Willis should be ashamed of herself and she's going to lose her job," said Republican U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. "We'll make sure of that."
Greene spoke to reporters last Thursday outside the Fulton County Jail, shortly before Trump arrived by motorcade to submit to booking and a mug shot. That same day, House Republicans in Washington announced their own investigation of Willis.
By then, a few GOP lawmakers in Georgia were calling for a special session to impeach and remove Willis or defund her office. Others proposed amending the state constitution to let Kemp pardon Trump.
Both are longshot prospects.
Georgia's General Assembly hasn't impeached anyone in more than 50 years, and with Republicans holding less than the required two-thirds state Senate majority to convict Willis, they would have to persuade Democrats.
Colton Moore, a Republican state senator whose purist brand of conservatism wins him few allies, launched a petition for lawmakers to call themselves into special session, requiring signatures by three-fifths of both houses. That too would require some Democratic support.
Georgia voters amended the state constitution to shift pardon power from the governor to a parole board in the 1940s after a governor was accused of selling pardons. It would take a two-thirds vote of both houses to put a measure before voters to change that status, again requiring Democratic support.
And it's not clear Kemp would pardon Trump even if he had that power. Kemp and Trump were on bad terms even before Kemp spurned Trump's calls to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election. And relations grew icier after Trump recruited former Sen. David Perdue for an embarrassingly unsuccessful Republican primary challenge to Kemp's reelection in 2022. Kemp, like some other Republican governors, now openly argues that his party needs to move on from Trump.
At least one other top Georgia Republican, state House Speaker Jon Burns, is siding with Kemp in opposing a special session. In a letter to fellow Republicans, he squelched talk of a special session, writing that he wants to look toward "a positive vision that prepares for the bright future our children and grandchildren deserve."
"All those charged are innocent until proven guilty, and I am certain both sides will ensure this matter is exhaustively considered through the courts," Burns wrote, saying he wouldn't comment further.
Burns' comments drew the scorn of Amy Kremer, a suburban Atlanta Republican activist who helped organize the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington that spawned the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
"We need to flip these corrupt RINO seats to true conservatives who will actually work and fight for the people," Kremer wrote on social media. "So embarrassing."
Looking for other options to go after Willis, some Georgia Republicans are coalescing around a plan to seek her removal by a new state prosecutorial oversight commission that begins work on Oct. 1.
The Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission was created with the aim of disciplining or removing wayward prosecutors. Republicans fought hard for the law because they said some Democratic prosecutors were incompetent or coddling criminals, improperly refusing to prosecute whole categories of crimes, including marijuana possession.
Democrats retorted that Republicans were the ones politicizing prosecutions, and some viewed the law as Republican retribution against Willis. She criticized the measure as a racist attack after voters elected 14 nonwhite DAs in the state.
The law lets the commission sanction prosecutors for "willful misconduct in office" or "undue bias or prejudice against the accused or in favor of persons with interests adverse to the accused." It's unclear how the commission will interpret those terms, because it hasn't created rules yet.
Kemp, Burns and Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones name the commission's five-member investigative panel to examine complaints. They also name a three-member hearing panel that decides on charges filed by the investigative panel.
Some district attorneys, not including Willis, are already suing to overturn the law. Barring court intervention, people can begin filing complaints on Oct. 1 for alleged misconduct occurring after July 1.
Such complaints could relieve political pressure on Georgia Republicans.
"District Attorney Fani Willis has demonstrated that she is nothing more than a liberal activist attempting to bend the law to fit a narrative that she has spent an egregious amount of taxpayer resources to craft," state Sen. Jason Anivitarte wrote on social media, encouraging people to bring complaints.
But if the commission's first act is to pursue Willis, critics say that will prove that it's nothing but a political tool to enforce GOP rule in Georgia.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, a Democrat and plaintiff in the suit challenging the law, told The Associated Press Monday that using the commission against Willis would confirm that it's what its opponents warned it would be – "an assault on prosecutorial independence and the latest attempt to subvert democracy in Georgia."