Gov. Brian Kemp is pushing back on efforts by former President Donald Trump and others to pressure lawmakers into calling a special session to punish the prosecutor who indicted Trump this month.

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at conservative conference The Gathering in Buckhead, north of Atlanta, on Aug. 18, 2023..

Credit: Stephen Fowler / GPB News

The most vocal fight over former President Donald Trump’s indictment in Georgia hasn’t been between left and right, but rather amongst fringe conservatives seeking to punish the prosecutor involved and Republican leaders who say those calls are both impossible and potentially illegal.

Thursday during a press conference about Tropical Storm Idalia, Gov. Brian Kemp forcefully shot down calls from Trump and a small handful of lawmakers to call a special legislative session to either impeach or defund Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, and said that while he viewed the charges as political in nature saw no reason to use a newly-created oversight panel to investigate her.

"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 said. "Regardless, in my mind, a special session of the General Assembly to end-run around this law is not feasible and may ultimately prove to be unconstitutional."

State Sen. Colton Moore (R-Trenton), a first-term Senator who voted against the prosecutor oversight bill, launched a fundraising effort and email list-building petition around the efforts to attack Willis, demanding a special session of the legislature to investigate and defund the district attorney after she announced charges against Trump.

House Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington), in a letter to Republicans in that chamber, outlined the procedural and political impossibilities of Moore's demands to "defund a duly-elected district attorney of this state and her office in an attempt to interfere with the criminal justice system."

"Regardless of your views of this case, removing this funding would also have the unintended consequence of causing a delay or complete lack of prosecution of other serious offenses like murder, rape, armed robbery, gang prosecution, battery, etc.," he said. "If we are concerned about the levels of serious crime in Atlanta, this move would obviously be harmful to the public safety. It is unfortunate some would knowingly suggest such a reckless course of action despite the devastating effects it would have."

Burns also noted that any attempt to remove funding for one DA would have to defund every district attorney in the state, adding that "targeting one specific DA in this manner certainly flaunts the idea of separation of powers, if not outright violates it."

Moore's push to punish Willis has been accompanied by making inflammatory statements on social media and in interviews about his GOP colleagues that has captured former president Trump's attention.

In one appearance on The Charlie Kirk Show, Moore falsely claimed that Willis was seeking to execute Trump as the penalty for a sweeping racketeering case stemming from failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. In another, Moore said unless fellow lawmakers addressed the indictments and prosecution of Trump that constituents would be "fighting it in the streets," hypothesizing a "civil war" and said he did not want to have to "draw [his] rifle."

"Highly respected 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," Trump said in a video message about the previously little-known lawmaker who often votes against measures brought by his own party.

Moore's mini-celebrity status on the pro-Trump corners of the internet and conservative media has also led to threats and harassment towards other Republicans in the state. In one post on the site formerly known as Twitter, Moore singled out state Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) and Sen. Shelly Echols (R-Gainesville) by name, including what appears to be Hatchett's personal cell phone number and directing people to call and demand they support his plans.

The pair issued a joint statement Aug. 29 decrying the "false reality" Moore and others pushed about calling a special session, which would require Democratic support to meet the 3/5 threshold in each chamber to happen, and vowed to use Georgia's new prosecutor oversight law as the vehicle to attack Willis' charges.

"If this law can get past the liberal challenges against it in the Supreme Court, it is the perfect vehicle to hold D.A. Willis accountable for politicizing her position," they wrote. "More importantly, it's the only feasible path anyone has proposed: no one, including Colton Moore, has stated what their plan would be if a special session were called. If anyone has a lawful, achievable plan to challenge D.A. Willis's actions, we are willing and ready to listen. In the meantime, we plan to be among the first of many Georgians to bring a lawful challenge against her under the prosecutorial oversight law."

Even though Kemp said he has no reason to believe the oversight commission should investigate the Democratic Fulton DA, the vocal response from some in the state Senate who wish to take action against Willis but keep it within more legal bounds highlights the fractured nature of the Republican party in Georgia, wrought by the former president's stranglehold over a crucial segment of the base and a crucial segment of moderate voters opposed to him.

Trump's false claims about the election in Georgia were advanced in the legislature by many in the state Senate, including now-Lt. Gov. Burt Jones (who is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the charging document and awaits the selection of a special prosecutor to determine if he faces indictment), and hearings held by Republican-led committees serve as the basis for several violations of Georgia law alleged by Willis in this month's charges.

Since 2020, the state Republican Party apparatus has embraced election deniers in key positions, attacked Kemp, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and others for not pushing false claims of election fraud and has often focused more on re-litigating 2020 than preparing for 2024, as Georgia will remain one of a few key swing states that determines who wins the White House.

Kemp and Raffensperger were among several statewide officials that faced Trump-backed primary challengers, beat them in blowout margins and then won commanding victories in the 2022 midterms, but still face attacks from the fringe of the party's base that threatens Republican success in future elections.

The governor warned fellow Republicans Thursday that a focus on punishing people for not declaring the election was stolen instead of things like cutting taxes and boosting economic development in the state could lead to a repeat of the party's losses in the Jan. 2021 Senate runoffs and the 2022 Senate race that helped give Democrats control of the chamber.

"That is the way you win races, that is the way you move forward," he said. "Things like cutting taxes, doing $2 billion dollar tax rebates, suspending the gas tax... not focusing on the past or some grifter scam that somebody's doing to help them raise a few dollars into the campaign account."