In a remarkable press conference, Gov. Brian Kemp squashed the idea of a special legislative session pushed by former President Donald Trump and his allies to oust Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis after she charged them with a vast conspiracy to reverse his 2020 defeat.
And the governor on Thursday also dismissed talk of backing efforts to reprimand Willis, either through legislative hearings that seek to slash state funding to her office or a newly empowered panel that can sanction wayward prosecutors or remove them from office.
The second-term Republican said he hasn’t “seen any evidence” that Willis has violated her oath of office, even though he voiced concerns about whether she was politically motivated to pursue the 51-count indictment.
“The bottom line is that in the state of Georgia as long as I’m governor, we’re going to follow the law and the Constitution, regardless of who it helps and harms politically,” said Kemp. “Over the last few years, some inside and outside of this building may have forgotten that. But I can assure you that I have not.”
Kemp added: “In Georgia, we will not be engaging in political theater that only inflames the emotions of the moment. We will do what is right. We will uphold our oath to public service. And it is my belief that our state will be better off for it.”
The governor is pushing back against an effort by Republican state Sen. Colton Moore to impeach Willis in the General Assembly. Beyond the significant legal issues that raises, the push is politically impossible because it requires Democratic support.
He summoned a reminder of the fraught days after the 2020 election, when the governor and other Republican leaders were blamed by Trump for his defeat. That quickly made them targets of his supporters, who peppered them with death threats and vowed to oust Kemp from office.
He said he sees echoes of those volatile times now, as Moore and other far-right Republicans have pressured GOP lawmakers to join their push, leading to harassing behavior from Trump loyalists. At least five state senators have told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution they’ve received threats.
The governor joined a chorus of Republicans who seek to lower the temperature of the escalating rhetoric. House Speaker Jon Burns wrote a lengthy letter to Republicans warning that the initiative flouts “the idea of separation of powers, if not outright violates it.”
And Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said in a statement to the AJC on Thursday that Moore’s idea is “not practical.”
“Calling individual members out by name becomes a distraction from what we should be talking about and that is the gross misuse of power, resources and responsibility from the Fulton County DA,” he said.
While senior Republicans have roundly rejected Moore’s initiative, some have endorsed hearings to slash Willis’ funding or encouraged her critics to file complaints before the new Prosecutorial Oversight Committee later this year. Kemp cautioned that tactic could backfire.
“These rules and laws work both ways for all parties - Republican, Democrat or otherwise. And you have to be very careful when you’re in power in government not to abuse that power, because if you do, you set the precedent for the other side using what you did in the future against them.”