Prominent Georgia Republicans’ efforts to stand up to the Trumpian wing of their party entered a new phase this week, courtesy of Gov. Brian Kemp.
On one level, Kemp’s repudiation of GOP efforts to go after Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) for her indictment of former president Donald Trump is a practical one. Just as in December 2020, when he said he didn’t have the authority to call a special session to help overturn the election results for Trump, he declines now to call such a session to oust Willis, again saying he simply doesn’t have the power to do so.
But Kemp didn’t stop there. The Georgia governor went on to admonish the conspiratorial and increasingly punitive segment of his party, continuing a trend of Georgia Republicans like him standing up to that element in a way that others haven’t.
Kemp seriously undercut both Trump and the GOP’s continual unsubstantiated claims of the “weaponization” of the government.
“Up to this point, I have not seen any evidence that DA Willis’ actions or lack thereof warrant action by the prosecuting attorney oversight commission,” Kemp said Thursday.
He added, “As long as I am governor, we’re going to follow the law and the Constitution, regardless of who it helps or harms politically.”
Kemp also conspicuously referred to “some grifter scam that somebody’s doing to help them raise a few dollars in their campaign account.”
Translation: There’s just nothing to see here, despite the try-hards in my party.
Kemp’s comments are particularly notable given that he signed a law in May creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, which has the power to remove local prosecutors from office. He signed the law just as many in his party were signaling a desire to go after elected left-leaning prosecutors, often for supposedly being soft on crime. (Think: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspending liberal state attorneys.)
While the law’s sponsors didn’t single out Willis, many viewed it as a thinly veiled threat against her, since she was clearly building a case against Trump at the time.
The law allows for removing a prosecutor for “willful misconduct” or “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute,” among other reasons. In signing the bill, Kemp said it would “help hold prosecutors driven by out-of-touch politics [rather] than commitment to their responsibilities accountable.”
The push to target Willis is being led by a GOP state senator, Colton Moore, who said last month, “I’m not going to sit back and watch as radical left prosecutors politically TARGET political opponents.” Moore claimed he had the support of three-fifths of each chamber for the special session, though Kemp’s office has cast doubt on that.
Moore’s comments echo those of Trump, who has regularly cast Willis as out to get him politically. Trump has also claimed Willis “allowed Atlanta to become one of the most dangerous cities anywhere in the world,” seemingly building a case for targeting her on those grounds as well. (Trump’s claims on this front are characteristically flawed.)
Kemp’s comments are notable because of how broad the language of the new law is — particularly the part about “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute,” which some wagered could be used against Willis for prosecuting a former president. Kemp is effectively saying that he hasn’t seen anything from Willis that might plausibly rise to that level, despite Trump’s claims.
And he’s had some backup. State House Speaker Jon Burns (R) this week also shrugged off the effort and cast doubt on the growing fervor in the party to target prosecutors.
“Targeting one specific DA in this manner certainly fl[outs] the idea of the separation of powers, if not outright violates it,” Burns said.
The effort to target Willis doesn’t seem to be a fully baked one at this point. But it fits in with growing efforts in the GOP to wield the levers of government to effectively intervene in judicial matters. Even as this is happening, Wisconsin Republicans are talking about impeaching their brand-new liberal state Supreme Court justice. The House GOP’s new “weaponization” committee has fed calls from some prominent Republicans to pull funding from the FBI and the Justice Department, including over special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution of Trump.
But just as they did in late 2020, some key Georgia Republicans are stepping forward to urge their party to pump the brakes on all that — and in doing so show just how extreme it is.