Mar 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Subpoenas, sanctions and shaming: Fani Willis' ordeal is far from over

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifying in court in February 2024.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifying in court in February 2024. Photo: Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images

Fulton County DA Fani Willis on Friday avoided disqualification from Georgia's election interference case against former President Trump, but other threats are looming that could jeopardize her role in the case.

Why it matters: Willis is the subject of ongoing investigations from Georgia State Senate and House Republicans, while a new state commission with extensive powers over prosecutors could also take action against her.

Catch up quickly: Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the Trump case, ruled Friday that Willis and her office can stay on the sweeping racketeering case as long as either she or special prosecutor Nathan Wade steps aside.

  • The ruling was in response to calls for Willis' disqualification from defense attorneys over allegations of impropriety stemming from a romantic relationship between Willis and Wade.
  • Willis acknowledged the relationship, but denied that it tainted proceedings or created any financial or ethical conflict of interest in the case.

State of play: Willis has fired back at her critics, saying that the disqualification effort and the probes targeting her are politically motivated to protect Trump.

  • The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a staunch Trump ally, began investigating Willis in August 2023 to determine if her prosecution of the former president was "politically motivated."
  • The committee subpoenaed Willis in February over a whistleblower's complaint about her office's use of federal funds and recently threatened to hold her in contempt of Congress if she does not comply.
  • Willis' office has maintained that its grant programs were conducted in compliance with all Department of Justice requirements.

The Georgia state Senate in January created a special committee to investigate Willis, granting it power to issue subpoenas and put witnesses under oath.

  • While it has no power to discipline Willis, the committee can recommend legislative and budget changes at the end of its probe, which could affect her office.
  • In a recent hearing, it heard testimony from Ashleigh Merchant, the defense lawyer for a Trump defendant who led the disqualification effort against Willis.
  • Merchant alleged, without providing evidence, that Willis used money from her political campaign for her personal use, according to the New York Times.

Zoom in: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) also recently signed legislation creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, which has the power to discipline and remove prosecutors.

  • Kemp said it was needed to "ensure rogue and incompetent prosecutors are held accountable if they refuse to uphold the law," the AP reports.
  • Opponents fear it will be used by state Republicans to control prosecutors they don't like, namely Willis.

Yes, but: The commission will likely face several legal challenges that could result in its termination or limitations to its powers.

  • A previous iteration of the committee was challenged by district attorneys before the state Supreme Court ultimately disapproved of it.

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