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Several things seem to be true at once when it comes to the scandals embroiling Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the woman currently leading the election interference case against former President Donald Trump in Georgia. The first is that the Trump team is willing to use any dirty trick in the book to cast aspersions on Willis, including leveling salacious accusations without evidence, accusing Willis (who is Black) of racial bias, and hinting that she should be disbarred. The second is that Willis has navigated this moment poorly, to put it mildly, and if the allegations against her are indeed true—a big if, although she has not vociferously denied them—they show profoundly poor judgment that could derail one of the most consequential criminal cases in modern American history.

The allegations against Willis are broad, but the worst among them are that she hired Nathan Wade as special counsel on the case—for which he has reportedly been paid more than $650,000 in public funds over the years he’s worked for her despite having very limited experience in complex criminal cases—because Willis and Wade “have been engaged in an improper, clandestine personal relationship during the pendency of this case.” Wade allegedly paid for vacations for both him and Willis, the motion asserts, which means that both of them have profited “significantly from this prosecution at the expense of the taxpayers.”

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The accusations were made by former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, a co-defendant in the Trump election interference case, in a motion filed before the judge. Willis initially met the accusations with silence. When she finally did address them, she didn’t deny a relationship with Wade. Instead, in a speech at Big Bethel AME Church, she said that the attacks on her and Wade stemmed largely from racism. She said she appointed three special counsels, all of whom were paid the same rate, and the one the Trump lawyers and the GOP have singled out is the lone Black man. “Isn’t it them playing the race card?” she asked.

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Willis didn’t name Wade. She did say that the Black lawyer in question had “impeccable credentials,” a claim that is certainly in dispute. While Wade has a long history as a lawyer and judge, his experience in racketeering law, which Willis is deploying in this case and is particularly complicated in Georgia, appears to be slim to nonexistent; he also seems to have limited experience in complex or high-profile criminal matters. But even if Wade has other professional and personal strengths that make him a good fit for this role, direct experience notwithstanding, if he is in fact in a romantic relationship with Willis, her choice to hire him to help prosecute what is among the most high-profile and high-stakes criminal cases in decades was an error. If he’s spending the handsome salary he’s being paid back on Willis and she’s not reimbursing him, that’s even worse. The people prosecuting Trump need to be not only above partisan politics, but above even the appearance of impropriety, self-dealing, and nepotism. If you’re going to hire your boyfriend in a case like this one, he’d better be a uniquely qualified pick—and you’d better be transparent with the court and the public about your relationship, and rigorous about following ethical rules. If you’re not able to be public about the relationship because your boyfriend is actually married? Don’t hire him!

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None of this means that Roman and the Trump team are behaving virtuously here. The motion filed about Willis’ alleged relationship contains no actual evidence, simply allegations, itself a significant ethical breach. Some of the legal claims at the heart of the motion are also flat-out wrong. As former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori wrote in Politico, “Roman’s filing claims that Willis and Wade may have violated the honest-services and RICO statutes because they ‘personally benefited from an undisclosed conflict of interest,’ but that theory of criminal liability was foreclosed by the Supreme Court nearly 15 years ago.” Roman made either an embarrassing mistake or a dishonest effort to mislead the judge.

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And yet, despite having zero actual evidence, Trump supporters, his party, and his legal team have done exactly as you would expect: taken the accusations and run with them. Trump has posted on Truth Social that the two “lovebirds” are acting “to ENRICH themselves, and to live the Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous.” The Georgia state Senate has approved a measure to create a special committee charged with investigating Willis. Serially unhinged Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has filed a complaint against Wade with Georgia’s ethics commission. All of this is wildly inappropriate given the evidence at hand, which is thus far limited largely to accusations and the lack of a denial.

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Trump’s lawyers now want Willis disqualified and the case dismissed, arguing that her church speech was “a glaring, flagrant, and calculated effort to foment racial bias” that would prejudice a jury, as well as a violation of the professional conduct rules that govern lawyers in Georgia. The judge in the case has ordered Willis to respond to the allegations by Friday, after which there may be further hearings to review the evidence (if there is any). Many of Willis’ supporters have been muted, which is wise—until the facts come to light, Willis should be neither pilloried nor protected.

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But Willis has not done herself, Wade, her team, or the country any favors. These allegations are now weeks old, and Willis simply hasn’t given the public a straight answer. Her caginess has played right into Trump’s hands, lending credence to his (false) argument that those going after him are just part of a corrupt political machine that will use any means, legal or not, to shut him out of power. His supporters, including many members of the Republican Party, are looking for any reason to disregard the criminal charges against him and to justify their continued support of a man who has behaved so dangerously that he’s facing nearly 100 criminal charges and multiple lawsuits across several jurisdictions. If Willis did indeed hire and use taxpayer funds to compensate a romantic partner and wasn’t straightforward about it, that’s all the justification many politicians and voters will need to confirm their view that this case is more persecution than prosecution. That’s true even if Wade is indeed highly qualified for the role, and is the person Willis would have picked regardless of their relationship.

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It cannot possibly come as a surprise, at this point, that Trump and those around him are more comfortable slinging mud than playing by the book. Willis knew, or should have known, that every decision she made in this case was going to come under scrutiny. And she’s right that as a Black woman, she is often held to higher standards, and that a Black woman prosecuting a racist, misogynistic president with a notoriously racist, misogynistic base would mean attacks on her that are ugly, bigoted, and more intense than those leveled against white men in similar positions. This is all true. And also, if Willis did indeed do what she’s accused of, she has evinced remarkably poor decisionmaking that absolutely shouldn’t end the case against Trump, but will still badly damage the public’s perception of its legitimacy. And her continued silence on the matter has only heightened the intrigue, left chum in the water, and made her judgment less defensible by the day.

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QOSHE - The Stakes Were Too High for Fani Willis to Do This - Jill Filipovic
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The Stakes Were Too High for Fani Willis to Do This

4 20
01.02.2024
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Several things seem to be true at once when it comes to the scandals embroiling Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the woman currently leading the election interference case against former President Donald Trump in Georgia. The first is that the Trump team is willing to use any dirty trick in the book to cast aspersions on Willis, including leveling salacious accusations without evidence, accusing Willis (who is Black) of racial bias, and hinting that she should be disbarred. The second is that Willis has navigated this moment poorly, to put it mildly, and if the allegations against her are indeed true—a big if, although she has not vociferously denied them—they show profoundly poor judgment that could derail one of the most consequential criminal cases in modern American history.

The allegations against Willis are broad, but the worst among them are that she hired Nathan Wade as special counsel on the case—for which he has reportedly been paid more than $650,000 in public funds over the years he’s worked for her despite having very limited experience in complex criminal cases—because Willis and Wade “have been engaged in an improper, clandestine personal relationship during the pendency of this case.” Wade allegedly paid for vacations for both him and Willis, the motion asserts, which means that both of them have profited “significantly from this prosecution at the expense of the taxpayers.”

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The accusations were made by former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, a co-defendant in the Trump election interference case, in a motion filed before the judge. Willis initially met the accusations with silence. When she finally did address them, she didn’t deny a relationship with Wade. Instead, in a speech at Big Bethel AME Church, she said that the attacks on her and Wade stemmed largely from racism. She said she appointed three special counsels, all of whom were paid the same rate, and the one the Trump lawyers and the GOP have singled out is the lone Black man. “Isn’t it them playing the race card?” she asked.

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Willis didn’t........

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