Political Insider

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Fighting words between two Trump-ists in Georgia 6th: 'Swamp dweller'

It's about the worst thing you can call a candidate running as a pro-Trump loyalist: A "swamp-dweller."

But that's how GOP strategist Seth Weathers, who was briefly Trump's Georgia campaign director, described Georgia special election candidate Bob Gray. He went on to say the ex-Johns Creek councilman was "attempting to deceive loyal Trump supporters" by making "bold, false statements." He also praised former state Sen. Dan Moody, another GOP candidate, in his dispatch.

Gray is running in the April 18 special election as a "willing partner" to Trump and says at campaign stops he agrees with each of the president's top campaign priorities. But the former Johns Creek councilman has come under fire from Bruce LeVell, another candidate and Trump loyalist, and some other GOP contenders about his pro-Trump credentials.

There's some tangled history between Gray's campaign and Weathers. Gray is being advised by Brandon Phillips, who succeeded Weathers as the president's go-to in Georgia. Phillips hired a raft of field operatives and other veterans of the 2016 campaign to work for Gray's campaign. And now the two are advocating for opposing candidates.

Gray's campaign pointed to his work at Trump's Sandy Springs campaign headquarters, adding: "Those that were there aren't persuaded by fabricated notes, no matter whose desk they're from."

We also received a string of phone calls in the hours after Weathers' statement about his short-lived tenure as Trump's Georgia chief. He resigned in late 2015 after a few weeks leading the campaign and has never publicly said why he left, only calling rumors about his departure "fake news."

Karen Giorno, who was Trump's southern regional director during the campaign, said Weathers' "disingenuous" comments about Gray prompted her to publicly endorse the candidate.

"This is happening across the country where folks who are loosely affiliated or dropped out really early are trying to capitalize on their ties to Trump," she said.

"I never worked with him. I never had any interaction with him. As far as I know he was just working with no authority or official title from the campaign after he was let go," added Giorno, who said she is now an unofficial adviser to the White House. "There is no way he would have insider knowledge about who would be involved in Trump's grassroots activities or not."

Weathers called it an attempt to "disparage my work with the Trump campaign" and attached copies of what he said were flight invoices and messages from Trump's advisers in October 2016 detailing a campaign trip. He said Gray made negative comments about Trump in a private conversation with him and said his campaign is "trying to change the conversation by attacking me personally."

"If there was any truth to their attacks," he said, "why would senior Trump campaign officials be emailing with me (9 days before the election) at the request of Kellyanne Conway for strategy advice? Why would they send me across the country as a Trump surrogate a week before the election?"

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.