ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office responded Monday to President Donald Trump’s demands to help him overturn the state’s election results with a reminder that Georgia law “prohibits the governor from interfering in the election.”

The Georgia Republican has become a favorite target of Trump, who said Sunday he was “ashamed” that he endorsed Kemp in 2018 and tweeted Monday that the “hapless” governor should use nonexistent “emergency powers.”

“Georgia law prohibits the governor from interfering in elections. The Secretary of State, who is an elected constitutional officer, has oversight over elections that cannot be overridden by executive order,” said Kemp spokesman Cody Hall.

“As the governor has said repeatedly, he will continue to follow the law and encourage the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps — including a sample audit of signatures — to restore trust and address serious issues that have been raised.”

The governor has been largely silent for weeks over Trump’s attacks, which have escalated after he became the first Republican to lose Georgia in a presidential vote in nearly 30 years. He said in a previous interview that he understands Trump’s “frustration” but that the law clearly sets out his duties.

The criticism could haunt Kemp through the 2022 midterms, when he is gearing up to face Stacey Abrams in a likely rematch. It appears increasingly possible that he might first have to survive a primary challenge from a Trump-backed adversary — perhaps Doug Collins, a four-term congressman now leading the president’s Georgia recount effort.

Kemp has had little backup from other GOP officials. Just as Republican elected officials have largely stood by as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is attacked by the president, Kemp’s staunchest supporters have stayed silent, wary of antagonizing Trump and his allies ahead of Jan. 5 runoffs for control of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue didn’t come to his defense. Neither did other top Republican officials. Among the few who spoke up were former Republican legislators, including Buzz Brockway and Allen Peake.

“This is absolutely ridiculous. Brian Kemp has done an incredible job leading our state during the worst pandemic of our lifetime,” said Peake, a Macon Republican who didn’t stand for another term in 2018.

“I for one am tired of Trump’s whining. Man up, admit you got beat, and do what’s right for our country. I’ll be backing Kemp in 2022.”

Trump’s tweet on Monday called on Kemp to use “his emergency powers, which can be easily done, to overrule his obstinate Secretary of State and do a match of signatures on envelopes.”

Signatures on absentee ballot envelopes were verified by county elections officials when they were received at county election offices. But it’s impossible to “match” signatures to ballots, since they were separated from envelopes to protect the secret ballot, leaving no way to link voters to the candidates they chose.

Constitutional law professor Anthony Kreis added that there are no such emergency powers conferred on Kemp by the state constitution or Georgia law.

“Raffensperger is not only an independent state constitutional executive officer, he’s the designated chief elections officer by law,” he said. “Both have discharged their duties under the OCGA.”

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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