GOP attorneys general group in turmoil after Jan. 6 Trump rally
The chairman of the top outside group dedicated to electing Republican attorneys general has resigned his position in the wake of a show of force by rivals from other states, months after it supported a rally with then-President Trump that turned into an insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R) last week stepped down as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), citing a “significant difference of opinion” with the group’s strategic direction.
He is the latest in a string of departures from the organization, including its executive director, Adam Piper, who resigned under what sources said was pressure from the group in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Carr cited that rally, which a nonprofit arm of the RAGA promoted in a robocall to supporters encouraging them to attend in the days leading up to Jan. 6. The robocall went out without the knowledge of Carr or other top attorneys general involved in the group, after substantial debate among staffers about whether it was appropriate for a group that backs law enforcement executives to promote a rally based on lies about the 2020 elections.
“At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” said the robocall, first reported by the investigative organization Documented. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections.”
The Rule of Law Defense Fund, which paid for the robocall, was listed a participant in the rally that preceded the insurrection. In a statement at the time, Piper insisted his organizations played no role in planning or sponsoring the event. But sources who were privy to internal emails said Piper was present at a Jan. 5 meeting in which top Trump administration officials planned the rally.
Piper blamed the robocall on staff. One source with direct knowledge of the internal discussion said Piper himself had wanted to run an advertising campaign to promote the rally.
Insiders said Carr was taken aback last week when some of his fellow executive committee members advanced Peter Bisbee as Piper’s successor. Bisbee, a veteran of the conservative Federalist Society and executive director of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, was ratified Thursday as RAGA’s next executive director.
RAGA finance director Ashley Trenzeluk also resigned over the weekend as it became clear that Bisbee was to become the group’s new executive director. In a letter to attorneys general first reported by the Alabama Political Reporter, Trenzeluk said she could not defend Bisbee’s hiring after reassuring donors and supporters that the group would chart a future direction away from the robocall promoting the Jan. 6 rally.
Piper could not be reached for comment. Carr aides did not respond to several requests for comment.
“Republican attorneys general have been united in their defense of the Constitution and rule of law over the last three months, in the face of the Biden Administration’s destruction of jobs on the Keystone XL pipeline, pursuit of radical environmental policies, and implementation of policies that trample on civil liberties,” said Johnny Koremenos, a RAGA spokesman. “The hyper-aggressive progressive left is encroaching on American life and Republican attorneys general are standing in the way with an unprecedented number of legal actions mounted against the federal government.”
Carr’s exit is the latest turbulence in an organization that has undergone substantial tumult after the Jan. 6 rally that served as a kickoff for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was counting votes to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
In recent weeks, factions have emerged among the nation’s 26 Republican attorneys general. Strategists, former staffers and donors familiar with RAGA’s operations used words like “chaos” and “disaster” to describe the months that followed.
Carr, in one corner, represented a faction of attorneys general who found promoting the rally and the baseless lies about election fraud abhorrent, said one former RAGA staffer with direct knowledge of his thinking. Carr and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R), who headed the nonprofit that sent the robocall, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, were not told before the call was sent.
The other faction’s leaders include Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (R), Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R). Those Republicans appear to have outflanked Carr in the hunt for a new executive director.
Paxton, serving his second term as Texas’s top law enforcement official, has been under indictment since 2015 by a Texas grand jury, and since 2016 by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush (R), the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), is considering challenging Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary.
In his remarks on Jan. 6, Paxton directly attacked Georgia — a state Trump lost last November — and encouraged the crowd to fight.
“What we have in President Trump is a fighter. And I think that’s why we’re all here,” Paxton told attendees from a podium at which Trump would speak shortly after. “We will not quit fighting. We’re Texans. We’re Americans, and the fight will go on.”
Hours later, five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, were dead after hundreds breached the Capitol.
In the days after the call and the insurrection, Marshall ordered a full internal investigation of the Fund. Piper resigned under what those with knowledge said was pressure from Carr and Marshall.
Carr alluded to Piper’s departure, and the reluctance from fellow Republican attorneys general to accept Piper’s exit, in his letter of resignation.
“This fundamental difference of opinion began with vastly opposite views of the significant of the events of January 6 and the resistance by some to accepting the resignation of the executive director,” Carr wrote, in a letter first obtained by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “The differences have continued as we have tried to restore RAGA’s reputation internally and externally and were reflected once again during the process of choosing our next executive director.”
RAGA has become increasingly prominent in recent years as a factor in statewide elections. Because it is not a federal campaign account, it reports contributions and expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service on a much less frequent basis.
IRS records show RAGA spent more than $50 million on elections and operations in 2018. IRS filings from 2020 show RAGA raised almost $20 million. The Rule of Law Defense Fund’s most recent IRS filings with the IRS shows it raised $2.4 million in 2019.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), the vice chairman of RAGA, will ascend to replace Carr as the group’s chairman. But that position is likely to be short-lived — Schmitt is running for a U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and is not expected to hold onto the chairmanship as he runs for national office.
Both RAGA and the Rule of Law Defense Fund spent the months leading up to the 2020 elections warning of lawless “mobs” led by antifa. Two weeks before Election Day, RAGA said mobs were “burning down buildings and committing violence in America [sic] cities.”
Thirty states will elect attorneys general next year, including 14 states where Republicans currently control the office — Georgia, Alabama and Texas among them.