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The issue with Brian Kemp’s defense of Fani Willis

Georgia’s governor has helped fuel the right-wing crusade against Democratic prosecutors such as Fani Willis. Now he wants the crusaders to stand down.


Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has been rewarded for his masterful display of doublespeak.

On Thursday, the Republican governor received praise from fans of liberal democracy after he publicly dismissed calls from Georgia Republicans to announce a special legislative session to investigate and possibly impeach Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for bringing a racketeering case against former President Donald Trump

To be fair, the remarks getting the most attention do sound principled.

“Let me be clear: We have a law in the state of Georgia that clearly outlines the legal steps that can be taken if constituents believe their local prosecutors are violating their oath by engaging in unethical or illegal behavior,” Kemp said at a news conference. “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.”

He also said calling a special session to impeach Willis is “not feasible and may ultimately prove to be unconstitutional.” (Such a move would require a two-thirds majority in the Georgia Senate, which would require Democratic votes.) 

But the problem here is that Kemp authorized the very mechanism that Trump-supporting lawmakers hope to use to pluck Willis from her position. Kemp signed Senate Bill 92 into law — that is, the bill authorizing the creation of the Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission, which would oversee any such effort. 

When Kemp signed S.B. 92 in May, he echoed the overtly political attacks that Republicans have waged against Willis and other Democratic prosecutors, claiming the bill was meant for “rogue or incompetent prosecutors who refuse to uphold the law” and saying it would hold “prosecutors driven by out-of-touch politics” accountable.

In fact, these remarks essentially echoed Trump’s baseless claims that Willis doesn’t prosecute real crime in the Atlanta area and instead engages in political hit jobs. 

That’s why, watching Kemp’s news conference, I saw a man trying to put out a fire he helped fuel (or, at least, appearing to do so for political purposes). 

It’s a point that Kemp’s critics have also noted. 

Jill Habig is the founder of the Public Rights Project, an advocacy group representing a bipartisan coalition of prosecutors suing to stop S.B. 92 from going into effect. She said in a statement that “Governor Kemp’s statements discouraging Georgia officials from retaliating against DA Fani Willis are welcome, but too little and too late.”

She added that Kemp “has already opened Pandora’s box by creating a partisan commission with broad and vaguely defined authority to investigate, discipline and remove duly-elected prosecutors for, among other things, ‘bring[ing] the office into disrepute.’” And Habig also noted that under S.B. 92, Kemp controls only 25% of the commission’s appointments. 

Kemp’s support for S.B. 92 shows he has a wobbly view of prosecutorial independence.

The dubious legal footing on which S.B. 92 rests, and the near-certainty that it will be weaponized for political purposes, is precisely why the Public Rights Project and the prosecutors it reps have sued to stop S.B. 92 and the Prosecuting Attorneys Oversight Commission it would create. (I recently spoke with Habig about that effort for The ReidOut Blog — give it a read here.)

Kemp’s support for S.B. 92 shows he has a wobbly view of prosecutorial independence. It’s all well and good that he doesn’t think there’s reason to use it against Willis now. But he essentially gave anti-Willis conservatives a weapon when he signed the bill and told them how to use it.

Now he wants them to stand down.