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If Fani Willis’ Get-Trump Case Were Legit, Democrats Wouldn’t Be So Desperate To Keep It In The DA’s Office

Fani Willis on MSNBC
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From their efforts to keep this case in Fulton County, Democrats have made clear that they know Willis’ case against Trump is bunk.


Democrats are desperately fighting to keep the Fulton County prosecutor’s office in charge of the Georgia criminal case pending against Donald Trump and his associates. And that tells you all you need to know about the merits of the get-Trump prosecution launched by the now-falling Democrat star Fani Willis. 

“Fani Willis’s Grand-Slam Indictment Against Donald Trump,” blared one headline from last August, championing the news that the Democrat-elected county prosecutor had charged Trump and 18 others in a sprawling 41-count indictment. For months, Willis wore the crown of the country, being honored everywhere from the local Atlanta Business League to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she received the title of 2023’s Most Influential Black American. She was reportedly even up for Time’s Person of the Year. 

What a Difference a Scandal Makes

But now The New York Times has run an op-ed calling for Willis to take a leave of absence from the Fulton County district attorney’s office.

Wednesday’s opinion piece, “Why Fani Willis Should Step Aside in the Trump Case in Georgia,” authored by Clark Cunningham, a professor of legal ethics at Georgia State University, follows from the growing scandal surrounding Willis’ hiring of Nathan Wade as special prosecutor in her targeting of Trump and his co-defendants. 

According to a joint motion to dismiss and motion to disqualify filed earlier this month by defendant Michael Roman — the Trump 2020 campaign’s director of Election Day operations — Willis was having an affair with the still-married Wade when she hired him as a special prosecutor. Roman’s motion also charged that Willis personally benefitted from the money paid to her alleged lover because Wade then used those taxpayer funds to pay for Willis to accompany him on vacations on both the Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.

Roman’s motion alleged that Willis appointed Wade to serve as a special prosecutor without the approval of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and even though the district attorney’s office had many more qualified attorneys already on staff. Yet from Nov. 1, 2021 to Oct. 31, 2022, Willis paid Wade nearly $300,000 — $100,000 more than Willis’ annual salary of $198,266.66. 

Since Oct. 31, 2022, Willis has entered additional successive contracts with Wade, setting a $250-per-hour billing rate for her alleged lover. According to Roman’s motion, to date, Willis has likely paid Wade close to or more than $1 million. These facts establish a disqualifying conflict of interest, Roman posits, as they both have a personal interest and stake in Roman’s conviction. That conflict, the defendant argues, deprives him of his due process rights to a fundamentally fair trial.

The Left Claims No Conflict

After news of the alleged affair quieted somewhat, we saw the first effort to safeguard the prosecution of Trump and his co-defendants by the Fulton County district attorney’s office. The anti-Trump online forum Just Security led the effort with a veritable treatise on Georgia’s law on prosecutorial disqualifications. The nearly 4,000-word article presented the case for “Why Fani Willis Is Not Disqualified Under Georgia Law.”

In it, the Just Security authors bemoaned the consequences of an “unfounded disqualification of Willis.” Willis’ disqualification, they argued, would “unjustifiably threaten to delay the case unnecessarily … because when the District Attorney herself is disqualified, the matter is transferred to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of the State of Georgia for reassignment.” 

On the other hand, “if Willis were otherwise sanctioned by ethics or county government authorities as a result of any separate inquiries (e.g. into her hiring decision involving Wade), it would not have this effect,” the article noted, in a not-so-subtle suggestion on how the court can split the baby here. Then the case can remain in the Fulton County district attorney’s office, the article concluded.

But why would that matter? The authors tell us: 

A likely delay in the prosecution of Trump and his co-conspirators occasioned by moving the case is inconsistent with the public interest. There is a paramount need to resolve the question as soon as possible of whether Trump previously criminally abused the office he is seeking to recover.

In other words, to ensure Trump is convicted before the November 2024 election, Roman’s motion to disqualify the Fulton County DA’s office must be denied. But to placate the public, Wade should voluntarily resign, the article suggested in compromise. 

Wednesday’s op-ed in The New York Times similarly stakes out the position that the prosecution of Roman and his co-defendants, particularly Trump, must continue in Fulton County — so much so that to avoid the risk of an independent prosecutor being appointed by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of the State of Georgia, the author entreats Willis “to take a personal leave of absence and turn over control of the district attorney’s office, and the case against Mr. Trump, to a career deputy district attorney.” 

The author, Clark Cunningham, explains this recommendation flows from his study of “the legal consequences that might come if Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade are found to have a conflict.” Taking a personal leave rather than risking the court disqualifying the entire Fulton County DA’s office, Cunningham claims, is “the judicious and farsighted course” of action for Willis. Cunningham even called it “an act of public service by Ms. Willis,” explaining it “offers the best option for keeping the criminal case on track and holding Mr. Trump and his co-defendants accountable for their actions in the 2020 election if that is the just outcome.”

But in explaining how that is “the best option,” Cunningham gives away his game — that it is not necessarily a “just outcome” he wants, but a conviction of Trump and one that arrives before the 2024 election.

If presiding Judge Scott McAfee grants Roman’s motion, “it could bring the entire case to a halt,” the op-ed explained, stressing that “under Georgia law, if a district attorney is disqualified, so is the entire staff of the district attorney’s office.” And unlike the Just Security analysis of the conflict of interest, Cunningham sees a real risk in the disqualification of Willis and her office. 

As Cunningham put it, the defendants will argue Willis “acquired a personal interest or stake” in their convictions, with Trump and his alleged co-conspirators likely arguing, “Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade concocted the extensive special grand jury investigation — which has spanned about seven months and involved some 75 witnesses — and the subsequent 98-page, 41-count indictment against 19 defendants, to make money for themselves by enabling Mr. Wade to bill the D.A.’s office more than $650,000 for working on both the grand jury investigation and the prosecution of the indictment.”

While acknowledging he didn’t know whether the defendants’ argument would succeed, Cunningham highlighted several unusual factors in the case, including Wade’s lack of obvious qualifications and that his prior prosecutorial experience was limited to misdemeanors. Add to that the fact that Wade received compensation far exceeding that of even Willis and then spent those funds on Willis.

Ashleigh Merchant, the Georgia-based attorney who exposed Willis’ relationship with Wade — as well as the alleged conflict of interest, when she filed Roman’s motion to disqualify Willis and the Fulton County DA’s office — sees Cunningham’s essay as confirming her client’s position. 

“Professor Cunningham’s opinions reflect the reality that Ms. Willis’ actions are indefensible under Georgia law and, as we pointed out, threaten to greatly undermine the public’s confidence in the eventual outcome of this case,” Merchant told The Federalist. “That is exactly why we have asked that both she and Mr. Wade be removed from the case.”

But even Cunningham admits what he perceives as the real risk of Willis’ continued involvement in the case: that disqualifying Willis and her office would send the case to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, where an independent prosecutor would be appointed to take the case over from Willis.

“And that’s where things could really go off the rails,” Cunningham cautioned. “Take one precedent: On July 25, 2022, Ms. Willis was disqualified from prosecuting Burt Jones, who was then a state senator, after she hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Jones’s eventual opponent in the race for lieutenant governor. Eighteen months later, the PACGA still hasn’t appointed a special prosecutor, and Mr. Jones, now lieutenant governor, has not even been indicted.”

But in the eyes of the Georgia State University law professor, “Delay is not even the worst possible outcome for the case if Ms. Willis is disqualified.” Rather, the worst possibility would be that the prosecutor appointed by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia “could decide to reduce or dismiss charges against some or all of the defendants, including Mr. Trump.”

One need only fear that outcome, however, if a criminal conviction, as opposed to justice, were the end goal. And one would only worry that an independent prosecutor would reduce or dismiss some or all the charges against Trump and his co-defendants if those charges should never have been brought in the first instance.

That the anti-Trump brigade is so forcefully pushing to keep the criminal prosecution of Trump in the hands of the Fulton County DA’s office, even if that means Willis must step aside, speaks volumes to the frivolousness of the indictment.

Whether fellow Democrats pressure Willis to follow Cunningham’s script remains to be seen, but with Judge McAfee ordering the DA to file a written response to allegations of a conflict of interest by Feb. 2, 2024, we should know soon. 

But Democrats, from their efforts to keep this case in Fulton County, have already made clear that they know Willis’ case against Trump is bunk.

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