A U.S. Senate candidate from Georgia is denying allegations of wrongdoing after a report resurfaced this week revealing that he was arrested nearly two decades ago for obstructing an investigation into child abuse at his church camp for children.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, is running in a special election to finish the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term after he resigned from the Senate in 2019 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. Kelly Loeffler was appointed to replace him, but she is now in a runoff election against Warnock which will be held on Jan. 5, 2021.
Warnock was arrested in 2002 for obstructing a police investigation, according to The Baltimore Sun. On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted out a Baltimore Sun article titled “City ministers accused of obstructing abuse probe.”
At the time, he served as senior pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland, and was “accused in court documents of trying to prevent a state trooper from interviewing counselors at the church’s Camp Farthest Out in Eldersburg,” where the child abuse was alleged to have taken place. Warnock and the Rev. Mark Andre Wainwright were arrested and charged before being released on their own recognizance.
Cotton included an excerpt of the piece in his Twitter thread, which alleged that Warnock and Wainwright “interrupted a police interview of a counselor Wednesday in a room at the camp and, after investigators moved the interview to a nearby picnic area, interfered again and subsequently tried to prevent a camper from directing police to another potential witness, according to charging documents.”
The excerpt also featured a quote from State Trooper Diane Barry who said: “I’ve never encountered resistance like that at all.”
For his part, Warnock has maintained his innocence throughout the past two decades.
“Reverend Wainwright and I acted well within the framework of the law, and I am confident that we will be exonerated,” Warnock said at the time. “It’s just unfortunate that our children had to see their pastors carried away in handcuffs.”
According to Warnock, “My concern simply had to do with the presence of counsel. We cooperated fully with their investigation. We have nothing to hide.”
Later that year, The Baltimore Sun published a follow-up piece on the matter titled, “2 ministers no longer facing charges of hindering probe.”
“What we decided was there was some miscommunication that had occurred with them,” explained Deputy State’s Attorney Tracy Gilmore.
“They were very helpful with the continued investigation. It would not have been a prudent use of resources to have prosecuted them,” she added.
Eighteen years later, Warnock, who moved to Georgia to become the pastor of the church where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, is running in an extremely consequential Senate race that will determine the balance of power in Washington, D.C., come next year.
A Warnock spokesman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the concerns raised by Cotton and other Republicans are part of a “false attack.”
“The truth is he was protecting the rights of young people to make sure they had a lawyer or parent when being questioned. Law enforcement officials later apologized and praised him for his help in this investigation,” Warnock spokesman Terrance Clark said.
Unofficial results compiled by Politico show that Warnock received the highest share of votes in the all-party blanket primary that took place on Election Day. He will advance to a runoff with Loeffler, who Gov. Brian Kemp appointed to fill Isakson’s seat until a special election could be held.
The winner of the runoff election will serve until 2022, when Isakson’s term expires. At that point, a regularly scheduled election will take place, where the winner will serve a full six-year term. The runoff will come two months after a surprisingly close presidential race in Georgia, a state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates consistently since 1996.
The runoff for the special election will take place on the same day that Georgia’s other Senate seat is on the ballot. Incumbent Senator David Perdue, a Republican, fell just short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. As such, he will face Democrat Jon Ossoff head-to-head, with the winner serving a full six-year term.
Based on the results of the 2020 Senate elections, Republicans will have at least 50 seats in the upper chamber while Democrats will have at least 48. Should Republicans win one or both Georgia runoffs, they will maintain control of the Senate regardless of what happens in the contested presidential election.
If Democrats win both runoffs and Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidency as many media outlets have projected, his vice-presidential pick, Kamala Harris, would break the 50-50 tie votes in the Senate, giving the Democrats a majority.
Fully aware of the consequences of the two Senate runoffs, interest groups on both sides of the aisle have poured millions of dollars into the Georgia runoffs. If Warnock wins the election, he will become the first African American senator in the state’s history. If either or both Democrat Senate candidates win their respective races, they would become the first Democrats to represent Georgia in the Senate since moderate Democrat Zell Miller retired in 2004 and was replaced by Isakson.