Fani Willis got ‘the best bad decision’ in Georgia. What happens next in Trump’s election subversion case

Nathan Wade has resigned. Now prosecutors want to get the election interference case back on track

Alex Woodward
Friday 15 March 2024 20:54 GMT
Fani Willis accuses prosecution of 'lying' as she takes stand

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will be allowed to continue prosecuting Donald Trump and more than a dozen co-defendants for their alleged scheme to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results.

But only if the lead prosecutor and a former romantic partner she hired was willing to step down.

The judge overseeing the case against Mr Trump and more than a dozen of his allies rejected their attempts to dismiss the case and refused to disquality Ms Willis following hours of testimony and arguments over allegations that she financially benefited from Nathan Wade’s hiring.

A decision from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee on 15 March offered her a choice: she can remove herself from the case, along with her entire office, or Mr Wade can step aside.

Hours later, Mr Wade submitted his letter of resignation to Ms Willis.

His departure leaves the district attorney with broad discretion to either bring on another outside prosecutor, or rely on her deep bench of assistant district attorneys, and quickly move to get the case against Mr Trump and his allies back on track.

Judge McAfee’s decision was “the best bad decision that the DA could get,” according to Amy Lee Copeland, a former appellate chief at the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia.

The judge clearly articulated Georgia law regarding conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety in such cases, and found that “something had to change,” Ms Copeland told reporters on 15 March during a virtual briefing from the Defend Democracy Project

“The court said either the DA’s entire office can leave or … the DA can say goodbye to Mr Wade and move forward,” she said.

Ms Willis is imminently expected to make a decision on her office’s next steps, and attorneys for Mr Trump and his co-defendants are likely to challenge the judge’s latest ruling in a last-ditch effort to keep delaying the trial or have the case dismissed entirely.

Following Mr Wade’s withdrawal, Ms Willis’s office can begin a search for another independent counsel to supervise the case, or “she might just say, ‘listen, the investigation is over … let’s just go forward with what we have,’” Ms Copeland said.

Mr Wade led an eight-month special purpose grand jury investigation into an alleged scheme from Mr Trump and his allies to pressure state officials and election workers to falsely assert victory in a state he lost to Joe Biden in 2020.

He was tasked with leading a prosecution with roughly a dozen lawyers from the district attorney’s office.

“The team is there and she’s capable of leading it,” according to Norm Eisen, a former special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Mr Trump’s first impeachment.

“The need is for speed,” he said. “If I was Fani Willis, I would embrace this ruling, respectively register my disagreement, and then on Monday [renew a request] for a trial date … We have waited long enough for this case to move.”

Steve Sadow, Mr Trump’s attorney in the Georgia case, said in a statement that his team will “use all legal options available to fight to end” the case against his client. But the judge’s decision on whether to disqualify Ms Willis is not immediately appealable. Parties would first need a certificate of immediate review for the judge to pursue it, according to Ms Copeland.

Days before his decision, Judge McAfee narrowed the list of charges against Mr Trump and five of his co-defendants in the sweeping indictment against them, but he has refused to throw out the central racketeering case against the defendants, and evidence of the election subversion scheme laid out by prosecutors is still in play.

“It’s time to leave that sideshow behind,” according to Atlanta attorney Allegra Lawrence-Hardy with Lawrence & Bundy. “What’s important here is the attempt to steal an election here in Georgia.”

The proceedings against Ms Willis only served to distract from the case against Mr Trump and his allies, relying on his time-tested delay tactics that “are going to run out of steam” at some point, according to Mr Eisen.

In his resignation letter, Mr Wade wrote that “the furtherance of the rule of law and democracy is and has always been the North Star of our combined efforts in the prosecution of those who are alleged to have attempted to overthrow the results of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.”

He offered his resignation “in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public, and to move this case forward as quickly as possible,” he added.

“I am proud of the work our team has accomplished in investigating, indicting, and litigating this case,” he wrote. “Seeking justice for the people of Georgia and the United States, and being part of the effort to ensure that the rule of law and democracy are preserved, has been the honor of a lifetime.”

Ms Willis accepted his resignation, writing in response that Mr Wade and his family have endured threats and “unjustified attacks in the media and in court” on his reputation.

“I will always remember – and will remind everyone – that you were brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation and prosecution of the allegations that the defendants in this case engaged in a conspiracy to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election,” she wrote.

“Others who were considered were understandably concerned for the safety of themselves and their families that would arise from their acceptance of your role,” she added. “You were the one who had the courage to accept the role, even though you did not seek it.”

In three days of hearings over two weeks, lawyers representing the district attorney argued that the case rested on the attempts from Mr Trump and his allies to publicly “impugn” and smear the prosecutor as political payback, and that the testimony and documents presented to the court showed “no evidence that the district attorney has financially benefited at all.”

The allegations against Ms Willis relied on salacious rumours, gossip and innuendo designed to “embarrass and harass” her, all while indefinitely decaying the criminal case against Mr Trump and his allies, lawyers for Ms Willis argued.

Outside the court, Mr Trump routinely railed against Ms Willis on his Truth Social, baselessly accusing Democratic officials of conspiring against him, while his allies in Congress have threatened to hold Ms Willis in contempt if she refuses to respond to their subpoenas.

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