Fulton County DA Fani Willis makes Trump courtroom debut

Georgia prosecutor pressed a judge to revoke bond for one of the ex-president’s co-defendants for witness intimidation

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 22 November 2023 17:47 GMT
Fani Willis appears in court to argue Trump co-defendant's bond should be revoked

Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis made her debut arguing before a judge and questioning witnesses in a case surrounding Donald Trump’s sprawling election interference case as she pressed a judge to revoke a bond order for one of the former president’s co-defendants.

Her appearance previewed the arguments, evidence and list of witnesses expected to testify in the upcoming trial, among several criminal cases surrounding the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.

Harrison Floyd, the leader of Black Voices for Trump, has “engaged in a pattern of intimidation” against his co-defendants and witnesses since he was released on bond in August, according to the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.

But following a three-hour hearing on Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee declined to send Mr Floyd back to jail and directed the parties to draft an order that reels in his public statements.

Mr Floyd made “technical violations” of his bond agreement, but “not every violation compels revocation,” according to the judge.

Fani Willis attends Harrison Floyd's bond revocation hearing in Atlanta, Georgia

Mr Floyd has repeatedly posted about several figures in the case on X, formerly Twitter, despite the terms of his release prohibiting him from communication with witnesses or co-defendants “directly or indirectly”.

“What we are really here to decide today is does this order mean something or not,” Ms Willis said in fierce closing arguments on Tuesday.

Mr Floyd “spit on the court” and “refused to oblige by three of the seven conditions of this bond order,” she said.

When it comes to statements against her, “he can say whatever he’d like on any post he’d like about me,” Ms Willis told the judge.

Floyd in court. The judge acknowledged he had made ‘technical violations’ of his bond agreement

“I’m threatened everyday anyway,” she added. “I’m a public official, voters elected me, and I’ve put myself in that position. That does not give him the right to contact co-defendants or intimidate other witnesses. And quite frankly, it’s really in the defendant’s interest to shut his mouth about this case because it can and will be used against him.”

The initial bond order did not limit “general criticism of the state’s case,” but “obviously that criticism can’t evolve into witness intimidation,” Judge McAfee said.

Mr Floyd was “boldly willing to explore where that line” exists, he added.

The initial order was “not specific enough to account for the nuances of social media” and would need to “specifically prohibit comments about witnesses.” according to the judge.

“I think the public safety interest … indicates that his actions have consequences,” he said.

Ms Willis introduced three witnesses to discuss Mr Floyd’s posts, including Michael Hill, one of her chief investigators, as well as Gabriel Sterling, a chief deputy with Georgia’s Secretary of State office who famously called out Mr Trump and his allies for amplifying an ongoing false narrative that the 2020 election was fraudulent, which fuelled threats against his office and family.

Von DuBose, an attorney for Ruby Freeman, an election worker subject to a wave of threats and harassment that forced her to leave her home, also testified on Tuesday.

Mr Floyd, like his co-defendants, was charged under the state’s anti-racketeering statute for allegedly joining a criminal enterprise to reverse Mr Trump’s loss in the state in the 2020 presidential election.

A booking photo of Floyd taken in August after he surrendered on charges connected to a sprawling election interference case

He also is charged with conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings and influencing witnesses for his participation in an alleged plot to pressure Ms Freeman to make false statements, which were amplified by Mr Trump and his allies as part of an alleged smear campaign.

As Ms Willis presented the long list of posts to Mr Hill while he was on the witness stand, he read them into the court record – “poop” emojis, included.

“Do you enjoy being called a piece of fecal matter?” Ms Willis asked Mr Sterling.

“No ma’am,” he said.

Asked by Mr Floyd’s attorneys whether he feels intimidated by the posts, Mr Sterling said it is “par for the course when you’re a public official.”

During the hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors confirmed that Ms Freeman, Ms Moss and Mr Sterling are state witnesses in the case – along with Jenna Ellis, among three former Trump-linked attorneys who reached plea agreements with prosecutors.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee

Ms Ellis said she believed Mr Floyd’s posts were meant to intimidate her, according to a message she wrote to Mr Hill.

“I believe it was meant to both intimidate and harass me and also encourage others to harass me, which others have done in the comments, and separate posts,” Mr Hill said, reading the message from Ms Ellis.

John Morrison, an attorney for Mr Floyd, argued that “there’s no need” for Mr Floyd to return to state custody, and that prosecutors “could’ve addressed the issue” by calling the defence with their concerns instead. Moments later, he defended Mr Floyd’s statements as “political speech” that “the state is trying to silence”.

Mr Morrison also argued that Mr Floyd’s comments don’t encompass the kind of communication prohibited in the bond order because he didn’t directly message his subjects with derogatory statements about them.

But “none of these posts amount to a threat or intimidation,” according to Mr Floyd’s attorney Chris Kachouroff.

Mr Floyd was the only defendant who spent any time in jail after he surrendered in August. He was released days later with a bond set at $100,000, with $40,000 on the racketeering charge and $30,000 each on other charges.

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