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Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (from left) are the Democrats running against Republican incumbents in the Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia Senate runoff elections. Warnock is running against (at right) Kelly Loeffler and Ossoff against David Perdue. (AP) Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (from left) are the Democrats running against Republican incumbents in the Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia Senate runoff elections. Warnock is running against (at right) Kelly Loeffler and Ossoff against David Perdue. (AP)

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (from left) are the Democrats running against Republican incumbents in the Jan. 5, 2021, Georgia Senate runoff elections. Warnock is running against (at right) Kelly Loeffler and Ossoff against David Perdue. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher December 7, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Four attacks made in Sunday’s two debates in Atlanta for two U.S. Senate seats were misleading, based on reviews of similar claims done previously by PolitFact.

  • In one debate, only the Democratic candidate appeared.

  • The two Jan. 5 runoff elections will determine which party controls the Senate.

Debates Sunday in the two Georgia runoff elections that will decide which party controls the Senate featured attacks over two candidates’ stock trades and one candidate’s personal history — all of which have been misleading to one degree or another in reviews by PolitiFact.

Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, is facing first-term GOP Sen. David Perdue. Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor, is challenging GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed to her position a year ago.

Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate. But if Ossoff and Warnock win, the chamber would be split 50-50. That would give the advantage to Democrats, because as vice president, Kamala Harris could break tie votes.

Here’s a look at some of the issues raised during the debates, and our fact-checks on related claims:

Perdue’s stock trades

Perdue did not attend the debate in Atlanta, leaving Ossoff next to an empty podium. Ossoff continued his criticism of Perdue’s stock trades, saying he has used private information he gained as a senator to enrich himself with stock transactions.

In the debate, Ossoff said: "David Perdue has been getting rich in office. And instead of taking public health expertise and guidance from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and getting that to the people and implementing in policy, he was buying up shares in manufacturers of vaccines and medical equipment. And he’s not here because he’s afraid he may incriminate himself in this debate." 

Perdue’s large volume of stock trades during his six years in office became the subject of a Justice Department probe into possible insider trading, according to the New York Times. 

For example, on Jan. 24 — the same day that Trump administration health officials privately briefed senators on the threat posed by the coronavirus — Perdue bought shares worth as much as $65,000 in DuPont de Nemours, which supplies personal protective equipment used to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. 

Senate committee leaders called it an "all-senator briefing," but  a Perdue campaign ad released Nov. 30 claimed Perdue did not attend. No official attendance record was kept, a Senate committee aide told us.

We looked into Ossoff’s past claims that Perdue was a "crook" and Perdue’s claims that he was "totally exonerated" by authorities looking into his trades, and found them both misleading. The investigations into Perdue’s trades closed without any charges of wrongdoing, but authorities did not expressly clear or exonerate him.

"Whether or not, respectfully, our senator has yet been indicted for a federal crime — his blatant abuse of his power and privilege to enrich himself is disgraceful," Ossoff said at the debate. 

"I haven’t seen one shred of evidence that David Perdue has presented that any federal agency has cleared him."

Perdue’s campaign did not provide us any evidence that he was exonerated. 

Loeffler’s stock trades

Warnock in the debate repeated his criticism of Loeffler’s stock deals.

"Senator Loeffler, when you received the private briefing regarding the coronavirus pandemic, you dumped millions of dollars of stock in order to protect your own investments," Warnock said, repeating claims that she was "profiting from the pandemic."

Our rating of a similar statement was Half True.

Loeffler, one of the Senate’s wealthiest members, benefited from stock transactions she made beginning on the same day as the coronavirus briefing for senators, which she attended. Some stock transactions involved companies poised to see increased or decreased business because of the virus.

Loeffler has said she did not direct the trading in her account, and said during the debate that she was "completely exonerated," but as Perdue did in a campaign ad, she mischaracterized the outcome of the investigations into her stock trades. A Senate Ethics Committee investigation found no evidence that she broke laws or Senate rules, and the Justice Department closed its investigation of her trades without action. But they did not expressly exonerate her.

After an outcry over the transactions, Loeffler said that she sold all her individual stock holdings and that she incurred losses as a result.

Warnock’s actions in a child abuse probe

Loeffler has tried to portray Warnock as a foe of law enforcement. In the debate, Loeffler criticized Warnock over a 2002 arrest.

Warnock was arrested after blocking officers who were investigating suspected child abuse at a youth camp near Baltimore that was run by a church were he worked. 

"Why were the police called? What was your knowledge or involvement in this incident?" Loeffler asked Warnock directly.

Warnock said he was charged when he asserted that lawyers should be present during the teens’ interviews. "Law enforcement officers actually later thanked me for my cooperation and for helping them," he said.

A prosecutor, citing a miscommunication, had the charge dropped, we found in checking a two-part attack by a conservative pundit.

Warnock’s ties to Jeremiah Wright

Loeffler deflected Warnock’s criticism of her stock trades with a series of attacks, including that Warnock "celebrated anti-American, anti-Semite Jeremiah Wright," referring to the Chicago pastor.

Our rating of a similar claim by Loeffler was Mostly False.

Wright’s 2003 sermon decried America’s historical mistreatment of Black people.

Warnock defended Wright’s "truth telling" about that mistreatment and said many people confused Black preachers’ moral outrage with hatred.

A divinity school, not Warnock, honored Wright for his career in ministry.

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Fact-checking the Georgia Senate debates