Fani Willis’ prosecution of Donald Trump may still be alive, but it’s not good

(Alex Slitz/Associated Press)

Fani Willis’ prosecution of Donald Trump may still be alive, but it’s not good

Opinion piece, Elections 2024

Harry Litman

March 15, 2024

The dismissal of Special Counsel Nathan Wade on Friday from the racketeering prosecution of Donald Trump and others in Georgia was the right decision, and a virtually forced one. Judge Scott McAfee’s resolution on a defense motion to dismiss Wade’s boss, Fulton County Dist






Fani Willis left no practical alternative.

But it would be a mistake to assume that Wade’s withdrawal ends the ugliness and doubt surrounding Willis’ handling of the case.

To remove the appearance of a conflict of interest arising from a romantic relationship between the two prosecutors, McAfee believed that either Wade or Willis, along with her entire office, should step aside. That made Wade’s withdrawal, which many observers had urged, the best way to clean up a distracting mess while allowing Willis to continue to lead her office and the highest-profile prosecution.

But the order and circus-like atmosphere of the multi

The preceding hearing has in some ways only intensified the controversy surrounding the case and ensured that the rhetorical challenges will continue.

Despite the decorative and professional language of McAfee’s order, it puts several haymakers on Willis’ judgment and probability. Probably the most infamous and enduring is his claim that an odor of mendacity lingers around Willis and Wade’s testimony, particularly regarding the timing of their relationship. It’s a phrase that could have continued political influence in Georgia and nationally.

Whatever the judge’s intent, his analysis supports Trump and other Republicans in Georgia, one of the most contested states in the upcoming elections. With a special committee created by the Senate to investigate Willis and a new law allowing oversight of district attorneys’ offices, Georgia Republicans will have plenty of opportunities to continue sounding the refrain that the problem isn’t Trump, it’s Willis. A prosecution centering on the infamous Trump soundbite “I just need 11,780 votes” is now tainted with an “odor of mendacity.”

That reality may be deeply unfair, and is certainly steeped in a Southern stew of racial and sexual politics, but Willis’ behavior will continue to come under intense and even unnecessary scrutiny, especially as both she and McAfee face elections this year. The motion to disqualify her has already drawn attention to questions that actually had no bearing on the legal issues at issue, including exactly when she and Wade began their relationship.

Some of the blame for the persistent thorn in the side that the case has become must be placed on McAfee. The Fulton County Superior Court judge has received generally high marks for his even temper and thorough preparation for a monstrous case. But the serious allegations in the original motion from Trump co-defendant Michael Roman could have been resolved without the chaotic hearing McAfee convened. The judge could even have denied the request for disqualification and left it at that.

McAfee’s ultimate denial of the motion is moot because there was never a plausible claim of a financial conflict of interest in Willis’ relationship with Wade, and nothing less than that could justify the district attorney’s disqualification. Whatever Wade spent on Willis in flowers, fancy meals, or even plane tickets, it was not only baseless but foolish to suggest that such benefits prompted prosecutors to take the case. And that’s all the judge needed to know to reject the defendants’ far-fetched argument.

However, McAfee allowed the show to go on. And while he rightly rejected the claim of conflict, he strayed into an amorphous appearance of conflict territory to justify the difficult choice he presented to Willis and Wade by forcing one of them to leave the case.

But Wade’s withdrawal cannot clear the case of the stink bomb that Roman and Trump have thrown into the proceedings. Even if Willis takes back the reins and pursues the case from this point on with impeccable judgment and caution because there is no reason to doubt it, this will happen while Trump and his champions shout this counter-narrative from the rooftops.

The entire setback is just the latest in a recent series of undeserved breaks for Trump in his determined quest to prevent all of his trials from going ahead before the November election. Willis and a Fulton County grand jury brought serious charges against the former president. The chances that they will stand trial and receive a verdict that the American people can take into account when choosing their next president are now dangerously close to zero.

Harry Litman is the host of the

Talking Feds Podcast

and the new one

Speaking of San Diego

speaker series.



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