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Georgia Judge Says Fulton County DA Fani Willis Can Continue Prosecuting Trump

Trump had sought to dismiss the case or have Willis removed, citing a relationship she had with another prosecutor.

Former President Donald Trump dances on stage after speaking at a Get Out the Vote Rally on March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Virginia.

A Georgia judge has ruled that the election interference case against former President Donald Trump can move forward and that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can continue prosecuting the case, so long as Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor Willis appointed as an assistant (and with whom she had a relationship) steps down from his position.

Willis can keep Wade on the case if she chooses, but only if she removes herself from it, an option she’s not expected to take.

Trump’s team of lawyers had alleged that Willis’s and Wade’s relationship was a conflict of interest that hurt their client. Because Wade was being paid by Willis’s office, they alleged, he had an incentive to do the work asked of him in order to benefit her personally. Wade had paid for some vacations and other expenses the two had taken over the past years.

Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled on Friday that either Willis or Wade could remain on the case, but not both. McAfee criticized Willis for an error in judgment, finding that her actions didn’t require her full removal from the case but that the hiring of Wade amid their relationship created an “appearance of impropriety” that would persist among outside viewers of the case.

McAfee’s decision is a technical setback for Trump’s legal team, who had sought to use Willis’s relationship with Wade as a means to get the case dismissed entirely. Trump and his lawyers “failed to meet their burden” in showing how the relationship created enough of a “conflict of interest” to result in that outcome, or to require Willis’s removal if the case moved forward, McAfee wrote in his order.

Trump can appeal the verdict, however, which will create further delays in advancing the case to an actual trial, possibly beyond the date of the 2024 presidential election, which many legal experts have pointed out is his goal in the four criminal cases currently against him.

Although unsuccessful in their request for Willis’s removal, the demand by Trump’s legal team shifted national attention away from their client and toward the district attorney, spotlighting for several weeks her relationship with Wade in a trial that is meant to focus on Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in the state of Georgia.

Earlier this week, McAfee gave Trump a different kind of pre-trial win, dismissing six of the 41 indictment charges he and others faced, including two relating to the infamous phone conversation he had in late 2020 with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump demanded that the state official “find” him enough votes to overturn the election result, or risk facing legal consequences.

McAfee dismissed those charges, not because it appeared that Trump and his allies didn’t engage in said illegal actions, but because he thought the prosecuting team didn’t provide specific enough charges against Trump. The judge ruled that Willis could try to convene a new grand jury to get those charges re-applied with more specific accusations, or she could appeal his ruling — although either option would, of course, result in further delays.

McAfee, however, left intact dozens of other charges against Trump that Willis will still be allowed to press forward with.

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