Several staff members who serve under Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis reportedly have come forward in an ongoing Georgia Senate panel investigation into alleged financial misconduct by Atlanta’s top prosecutor amid an ongoing romance scandal.
The state Special Committee on Investigations — comprised of six Republicans and three Democrats — is looking into whether Willis misused public funds through her ongoing relationship with attorney Nathan Wade, whom she hired in 2021 to prosecute Donald Trump on 13 criminal counts for his alleged effort to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election.
“There are whistleblowers inside the Fulton County DA’s office raising complaints and allegations about the misuse of both federal funds and state funds,” said Republican state Sen. Bill Cowsert, the committee chair, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There are people that have information they want to share with us.”
It is likely that the staff members would testify behind closed doors to maintain their anonymity.
The committee lacks the authority to take any action that would serve to discipline Willis or any other individuals through its investigation, but it can issue subpoenas for evidence and sworn testimony, and if misconduct is confirmed, the members could propose amendments to state laws.
This past week, Willis filed motions to dismiss several subpoenas demanding her and her staff’s testimony on the misconduct claims as Trump and the other defendants sought to bar her from the case.
In the motion, Willis argued that the subpoenas constituted harassment that was intended to disrupt and prolong the prosecution.
Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee will rule on the matter after oral arguments are presented on Feb. 15.
Willis is also fighting subpoenas related to Wade’s recent divorce, which spared her from having to testify under oath after Cobb County Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson stayed a subpoena for Willis to testify before Wade’s divorce was granted last week, eliminating the need for Willis to take the stand.
On the campaign trail, Trump ramped up his attacks on the Fulton DA, while Trump’s lawyers filed a seven-page court brief on Feb. 7, claiming that a speech by Willis at Atlanta’s Big Bethel A.M.E. Church in January suggested she was racist.
The filing claimed Willis took aim at the defendants in the RICO case when she asked God “why defense counsel and the defendants were questioning her conduct in hiring a Black man but not his White counterparts, and why the judgment of a Black female Democrat wasn’t as good as White male Republicans.”
“Here, the DA’s conduct was indeed egregious,” the filing states, according to Law & Crime. “It was undeniably unethical. Her MLK holiday ‘church speech’ intentionally and in bad faith injected race, religion, and politics into the case and stoked racial animus.”
In recent weeks, five defendants have petitioned the judge to dismiss the case and disqualify Willis from continuing to pursue the charges against Trump and 14 other defendants after her secret relationship with Wade came to light in a Jan. 8 court filing.
Elsewhere, a separate panel of 17 prominent legal experts filed a court brief last week, declaring Willis had no conflict of interest that would render her ineligible to prosecute Trump despite her budding romance with the special prosecutor.
The group, which includes ethics experts and former prosecutors in both Georgia and Washington, submitted a “friend of the court” brief on Feb. 5, urging McAfee to dismiss several motions alleging professional misconduct by Willis.
In a joint statement, the group expressed unequivocal support for Willis and outlined the legal criteria necessary to constitute a conflict of interest.
“Disqualifying conflicts occur when a prosecutor’s previous representation of a defendant gives the prosecutor forbidden access to confidential information about the defendant or a conflict otherwise directly impacts fairness and due process owed a defendant,” the signees wrote.
The group emphasized: “That kind of conflict is not at issue here” since Willis never represented Trump in any previous legal matter, suggesting that Willis’ relationship with Wade bore no real consequence in the RICO case against the former president.
The letter from the experts attempted to pour cold water on the prevailing belief that Willis’ recent actions could ultimately derail the prosecution as Roman’s filing claimed Willis sought financial gain from Wade through free travel and other perks, constituting potential ethical and criminal violations.
The statement from ethics experts asserted that even if the claims against Willis are true, they fall short of requiring her removal as they were not pertinent to the core of the case.
If McAfee disagrees, the group asked the judge to allow Willis to resolve the matter by paying Wade back for any expenses he covered on her behalf.
The brief suggested that Willis could ask Wade to step back from the case, which would serve to keep the prosecution moving forward without further delay.
The brief also noted that judges often approach disqualification requests with extreme caution, considering the cost to taxpayers and trial delays as a new team of prosecutors would need considerable time to get familiar with the case.
Previously, some legal experts felt the scandal had the potential to derail Willis’ career as Fulton County’s lead prosecutor.
Willis stayed mum about the affair for several weeks before she finally acknowledged her relationship with Wade in a Feb. 2 court filing, claiming she had done nothing wrong.
However, Willis denied that she enriched herself through the arrangement, which was alleged in the motion filed by former Republican operative Michael Roman in early January.
The romance scandal also coincided with Wade’s dragged-out divorce process, sparking a firestorm of criticism against Willis with repeated calls for her to resign as some lawmakers demanded a criminal investigation.
McAfee, the judge presiding over the state case against Trump, previously ordered the Feb. 15 evidentiary hearing to have Willis address the scandal under oath, but in light of her recent admission on paper, Willis implored the judge to cancel the upcoming proceeding.
As the unprecedented case against Trump in Georgia emerged, Willis sought outside counsel to handle the prosecution, as Trump was the first president to ever face criminal charges.
Trump and those accused alongside him could go on trial in the coming months after they all pleaded not guilty to the charges last August, while a handful of other defendants pleaded guilty in a deal to testify against the former president.
Trump joined the motion to drop Willis from the case on Jan. 25, but the former president faced a high bar to get the indictment against him thrown out on misconduct grounds as the defendants have not presented evidence to merit a dismissal, the expert panel said.
“Defendants have not shown that their constitutional rights were violated or that these proceedings were rendered fundamentally unfair due to any relationship between DA Willis and Wade. Nor can Defendants establish that they were actually prejudiced, so as to warrant this relief,” the group stated, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.