As Herschel Walker faced defeat by his Democratic opponent Raphael Warnock in a high-stakes US Senate election in Georgia last year, Donald Trump advised the Republican candidate: “Just call him a child abuser.”
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At first, Walker did not take the former president’s advice, letting go his sole debate with Warnock – a church pastor – without raising the slur.
But according to Jonathan Karl, ABC News’s chief Washington correspondent and the author of a new book on Trump’s Republican party, “all bets were off once the race went to a run-off”.
“‘Y’all know what he did at that camp?’ Walker falsely told a crowd of supporters in late November. ‘This young man said there was sexual abuse and there was physical abuse. I’m like, Who did that? It has to be Senator Raphael Warnock, because he was responsible for it.’”
Trump’s advice to the former college football and NFL star, and Warnock’s garbled recounting of the slur, is reported in Karl’s new book, Tired of Winning, published in the US on Tuesday.
Karl’s source is an unidentified senior Walker adviser who witnessed the conversation, which Walker put “on speakerphone so his team in the room could hear the strategic wisdom that was about to be offered”.
The claim against Warnock concerned alleged abuse in 2002 at a Maryland summer camp run by a church where he was then senior pastor. The allegation surfaced – and was used by the Republican Kelly Loeffler – during Warnock’s first victorious Senate run, which ended with a runoff win in January 2021.
Karl writes that a camper alleged a counselor threw urine at him and locked him outside overnight, as a punishment for wetting his bed.
“The story was horrible,” Karl writes, noting a reported financial settlement. “But labeling Warnock a ‘child molester’ was ridiculously wrong. There was no allegation of sexual abuse and no allegation whatsoever against Warnock himself. He was the pastor at the church, not the director of the camp.”
As reported at the time by the Baltimore Sun, Warnock and another church official were arrested after “a state trooper said the ministers prevented her from interviewing counselors as she investigated” the alleged abuse.
But the charges of interfering with an investigation were dismissed.
In 2020, when Loeffler brought up the incident, a spokesperson for Warnock told CNN: “The truth is he was protecting the rights of young people to make sure they had a lawyer or a parent when being questioned. Law enforcement officials later praised him for his help in this investigation.”
Karl also notes Walker’s own struggles with allegations of domestic violence and reports he paid for an abortion.
Warnock won the runoff, helping Democrats retain the Senate.