Why Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has Trump and his allies shook

OPINION: Willis' investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn Georgia's election results may be one of the strongest cases to bring criminal charges against the former president.

Fani Willis
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a photo at her office, Feb. 24, 2021 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

This summer, Georgia’s first Black female Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, has been making national headlines for her professional and dogged pursuit of justice surrounding the 2020 election shenanigans of former President Donald Trump and his closest allies.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Willis convened a special grand jury in May to aid an investigation she launched in February 2021 as to whether the former president engaged in criminal behavior while trying to overturn the 2020 election results, including making that Jan. 2, 2021 phone call to Georgia election officials to pressure them into coming up with “11,780 votes” to swing the state’s election his way. She’s also looking into the “fake elector” scheme in which 16 individuals allegedly participated in a plan to overthrow the 2020 election results during the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. (Willis experienced a bit of a setback last month when a Georgia judge ruled she couldn’t investigate one of the fake electors because she hosted a fundraiser for his political opponent.)

As Time magazine notes, criminally prosecuting an ex-president would be unprecedented. To that I say, so what? When did America ever shrink from doing unprecedented things? But Willis is no stranger to doing hard things. The Howard University alum came to prominence as an assistant district attorney for prosecuting educators in 2015 during the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal (she faced some criticism because the 11 educators were Black.) In her first term as district attorney, she is dealing with heart-wrenching cases like the racially motivated killing of six Asian women and two others at Atlanta-area spas (Willis says she plans to seek the death penalty.) She also made waves this summer with another high-profile case: indicting rapper Young Thug on gang-related and racketeering charges. Willis has had to up her protection detail after receiving death threats from both Young Thug fans and Donald Trump supporters.

Although Trump is the target of Willis’ investigation, so, too, is former New York City mayor and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, who testified last Wednesday before the special grand jury in Atlanta. I had a chance to discuss the case on behalf of theGrio on CNN last week as to why Willis hauled Giuliani in for legal questioning and why the outcome of his appearance could be so consequential to Trump’s ultimate prosecution or not.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) are not targets of an investigation but both are subjects of interest to the DA’s investigation and have been subpoenaed to testify before the special grand jury. According to the Washington Post, Willis is interested in speaking to Graham because he could provide a crucial to understanding “a multistate, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.” On Sunday, Senator Graham, who has been fighting the subpoena, was given a last-minute reprieve by the federal appeals court from having to give testimony. 

As for Governor Kemp, who is, once again, in a tight election race against Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams, all signs indicate he does not want to offend the all-important Trump base. It makes sense. Georgia flipped in 2020 from red to purple, electing two Democratic U.S. senators. Kemp needs an energized MAGA base to help him defeat Abrams in the general this November. 

In news last week, Kemp’s attorneys claim in a court filing that Willis “has engineered the governor’s interaction with the investigation to reach a crescendo in the middle of an election cycle.” Further, in an email exchange last month with Kemp’s attorneys, Willis responded to claims she was aiming to hurt Kemp’s election chances by saying, “You repeatedly referring to it as a politically motivated investigation does not make it so.”

Kemp and his cohorts see both Abrams and Willis as allies aligned against him, and as such,  Kemp’s team has filed a motion to delay his testimony, suggesting that he shouldn’t have to testify so close to Election Day. Kemp’s lawyers also claim he shouldn’t have to testify because his actions are covered by executive privilege. We will see where that lands soon. 

What matters to me, however, and should to all who believe passionately in free and fair elections, is that Willis is willing to risk it all. Her career. Her reputation. She has been threatened, menaced and yelled at just as has anyone who dared to go against the Trump train. Yet she appears to be unafraid to pursue justice no matter how far, wide or high it may lead her. 

“[The election investigation] seems to be exciting to the rest of the world…But the reality is this: I do cases the same all the time. I’m going to look at the facts when the evidence is here. I’m going to see if those facts violate that law and if they do, we gon’ charge you,” she told Time magazine.

In the final analysis, Willis’ actions matter because she is in the consequential position of having to criminally investigate a former president. These kinds of bold moves can be career-ending if they are seen as partisan and unfair, which is exactly why Trump and his allies have cried foul at every chance they get. But what matters most here, in my opinion, is that DA Willis is standing up for the most fundamental virtue of this republic: protecting free and fair elections. When all is said and done, that is what makes what she is doing matter so very much.

Sophia Nelson thegrio.com

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

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