Donald Trump is cracking up the Georgia GOP

Georgia Republicans are in-fighting over whether to probe and punish Fulton County DA Fani Willis

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published August 31, 2023 5:40PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Georgia state GOP convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on June 10, 2023 in Columbus, Georgia. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Georgia state GOP convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on June 10, 2023 in Columbus, Georgia. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Georgia Republicans find themselves in a state of disarray as right-wing conservatives, both in Congress and Georgia's General Assembly, pressure GOP leaders to pursue efforts to punish Democratic Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Fani Willis for indicting former President Donald Trump.

Spearheaded by first-term state Sen. Colton Moore, the push for political retribution has shaken the so-called law and order party, as some of the GOP's less radical colleagues are forced to fire back against the unseemly probing of a prosecutor. Earlier this month, Willis charged Trump and 18 other defendants in a sprawling racketeering indictment accusing the group of conspiring to overturn the results of the state's 2020 election. Moore, who represents the northwest corner of Georgia, in response to the indictment said Willis' "political persecution" of Trump and her behavior in the aftermath should prompt an emergency session to review her actions.

But other Republicans in the Peach State were quick to push back.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dismissed the idea of ousting Willis during a press conference Thursday.

"There have been calls by one individual in the General Assembly and echoed outside these walls by the former president for a special session that would ignore current Georgia law and directly interfere with the proceedings of a separate but equal branch of government," he said, according to The Hill

Kemp argued that history was "trying to repeat itself," a reference to the time shortly after the 2020 election when he rejected calls to order a special session to subvert the election results, and pointed out that Georgia law details legal methods constituents can employ to challenge their local prosecutor if they believe the prosecutor is engaging in "unethical or illegal behavior."

"He's using the money he steals from conservatives to attack fellow Republicans — doing nothing but helping the Democrats across the state and putting his conservative colleagues in danger."

"Up to this point, I have not seen any evidence that DA Willis's actions or lack thereof warrant action by the prosecuting attorney oversight Commission, but that will ultimately be a decision that the commission will make," Kemp, who pushed back against Trump's cries of a stolen election earlier this month, said.

"A special session of the General Assembly to end-run around this law is not feasible and may ultimately prove to be unconstitutional," he added.

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But a small yet vocal group of Republican lawmakers has already joined Moore in calling for the special session to remove the elected district attorney or defund her office.

"The Legislature has this great check and balance when it comes to controlling the purse," Moore told The Hill earlier this month. "Ultimately, from what I've seen, I think she should completely be defunded of any state dollars. People in northwest Georgia and Georgians all over don't want their tax dollars going to fund this type of political persecution."

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde also hopes to use an upcoming appropriations bill to curtail federal funding for Willis as well as the other prosecutors have indicted the former president this year.

Those who have not aligned themselves with Moore have received a sharp admonishment from the senator, who recently called those colleagues "buzzard cowards," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The former president has added to the tension, posting a video to his Truth Social platform this week that praised Moore's "courage and conviction" while urging other Republican legislators to stand with the legislator.

"Highly respected Georgia state Sen. Colton Moore deserves thanks and congratulations of everyone for having the courage and conviction to fight the radical left lunatics who are so badly hurting the great state of Georgia and, frankly, the USA itself," Trump said in the video before taking aim at "failed DA" Willis.

Georgia House Speaker John Burns, a Republican, added to the chorus of GOP dissent, suggesting in a letter to the GOP caucus that the targeting of Willis violates the separation of powers.

If legislators are really concerned "about the levels of serious crime in Atlanta," stripping funding from Willis' office would be "be harmful to the public safety," Burns wrote in the letter to the majority. The representative went on to cite the Georgia statute that outlines the salaries for district attorneys and assistant district attorneys and asserted that the General Assembly does not have the authority to reduce the pay of any individual DA.

"Targeting one specific DA in this manner certainly flaunts the idea of separation of powers, if not outright violates it," Burns continued.

"We as members of the General Assembly have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the State of Georgia, these United States and the laws thereof. We trust that our criminal justice system will deal with this matter impartially and fairly, and we will not improperly intercede in this matter in direct contradiction to the oaths we took."

Other Republican state officials have also quickly opposed Moore's calls for the special legislative session on the grounds that the move would require support from Democrats, according to The Journal-Constitution.

"Senator Moore put his letter out and pasted it all over social media and did interview after interview while using the issue to raise money online," state Sen. Russ Goodman, R, told his constituents in an open letter, adding, "He never once called anyone in the Republican caucus to discuss his letter. I'll be perfectly frank: I think what he is doing is disingenuous and I'm not going to purposely mislead y'all."

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Moore has since escalated his attacks against his Republican opponents, calling those who have rejected his petition spineless "RINOs" (Republicans in name only) and even alluded to impending violence.

"Do you want a civil war? I don't want a civil war. I don't want to have to draw my rifle," Moore said during a recent appearance on Steve Bannon's podcast. "I want to make this problem go away with my legislative means of doing so."

His barrage has also sparked threats against some Republican legislators that prompted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to ask lawmakers for specifics about harassing activities. After state Sens. Bo Hatchett and Shelly Echols issued a joint statement objecting to Moore's call to action, they said the senator dispatched robocalls, texts and emails targeting them.

"It's a horrible abuse of power. A violation of Colton Moore's oath of office," Hatchett told the Journal-Constitution. "He's using the money he steals from conservatives to attack fellow Republicans — doing nothing but helping the Democrats across the state and putting his conservative colleagues in danger."

Moore's conduct only adds to an already tense environment within the chamber as freshman state Sen. Shawn Still, who said he committed no wrongdoing, faces charges in the Georgia indictment and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones could soon be the subject of investigation as one of the charging documents 30 unindicted co-conspirators. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could prompt a new round of legislative redistricting at the end of the year also threatens the fleeting harmony of the chambers. 

State Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Republican, suggested that lawmakers turn their attention to other methods of scolding Willis, such as hearings into her use of public resources. Meanwhile, others predict the split in the chamber will persist.

"I've had numerous constituents express that if Trump's presidential campaign brings people like Colton to the forefront of our state politics, they don't want the former president back in office," Hatchett told the Journal-Constitution.

"The only person Colton is helping is Colton," he added. "He's hurting Republicans. He's hurting Republican leaders. And he's hurting former President Trump."

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2020 Election Defund The Police Donald Trump Fani Willis Georgia Gop Gop Civil War Gop In-fighting Indictment