What to know about Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who criminally indicted Trump

Willis will undoubtedly receive newfound attention after bringing what is likely the most ambitious criminal case to the feet of Trump.

After months of anticipation, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis handed down another historic round of criminal indictments against former President Donald Trump.

The top prosecutor in Georgia’s largest county charged Trump and 18 other defendants with racketeering and 40 other counts in their alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the Peach State.

Willis, 52, will undoubtedly receive newfound attention now that she has brought what is likely the most ambitious criminal case to the feet of Trump. So who is exactly Fani Willis?

fani willis, thegrio.com
Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, returned indictments against former President Donald Trump and 18 others regarding the 2020 presidential election results. Here, she stands inside her office chambers in Atlanta, the county seat. (Photo by David Walter Banks)

Who is Fani Willis?

For one, Willis is a history maker, becoming the first woman to serve as district attorney in Fulton County, which is 42.5% Black and includes Atlanta, the county seat. She took office on Jan. 1, 2021, just days before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. Willis, who ousted a longtime incumbent prosecutor, vowed to keep the county safe and reform its criminal justice system.

Willis received her Juris Doctorate from Emory School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University, where she graduated cum laude in 1992, according to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office website. She is also a divorced mother of two college-aged daughters.

Willis is experienced in RICO cases

fani willis georgia, thegrio.com
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (right) talks with a member of her team on May 2, 2022, during proceedings to seat a special purpose grand jury to look into the actions of former President Donald Trump and his supporters. This week, she indicted Trump and others accused of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in the state. (Photo by Ben Gray/AP, File)

Willis, who has 20 years of experience as a prosecutor, led over 100 jury trials and has prosecuted hundreds of murder cases. 

Most notably, Willis is well-versed in prosecuting Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) cases. One of her most high-profile RICO cases was the successful prosecution of nearly a dozen former Atlanta Public Schools educators convicted of participating in a test cheating conspiracy. Several others took plea deals in the case.

Recently, Willis took another high-profile RICO case in Fulton County against rapper Young Thug and other co-defendants accused of committing gang-related crimes, including possession of illicit firearms and drugs.

Willis has been criticized for her pursuit of RICO cases, as critics argue she overuses Georgia’s gang and RICO laws, which take longer to prosecute and require more resources, according to AP News. However, Willis has been resolute that she prefers the RICO statute because it allows prosecutors to paint a wider and complete picture of defendants’ alleged illegal acts.

Unlike others, RICO cases allow a prosecutor to try co-defendants all at once – something Willis said she plans to do in the case against Trump and his allies, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, among others.

Willis is not one to back down

fani willis, thegrio.com

If one thing is certain, Fani Willis is undeterred by detractors, including Trump himself, who has attacked the prosecutor as partisan and “racist.” Her high-profile investigation of Trump has led to death threats, causing her to receive heightened security for her safety and that of her staff.

In an email sent to Fulton County staff responding to attacks from pro-Trump supporters and political groups, Willis called on her office to “ignore all the noise and keep doing your job with excellence.” She added, “I am not concerned.”

During brief remarks Monday night after announcing her 41-count indictment of Trump and associates, Willis dismissed claims that her prosecution is politically motivated or biased. 

“I make decisions in this office based on the facts in the law. The law is completely nonpartisan. That’s how decisions are made in every case,” she told reporters. 

Willis noted that, to date, her office has indicted over 12,000 cases, including RICO cases – with the Trump case being the 11th such indictment. “We follow the same process,” she said. “We look at the facts, we look at the law, and we bring charges about the terms of surrender.”

In what is a sure sign of Willis’ ambitious style as a prosecutor, she made it clear that she has every intent to try Trump and his co-defendants all at once despite legal experts pointing out that doing so will be incredibly difficult with 19 defendants.

“Do I intend to try the 19 defendants in this indictment together?” asked Willis, repeating back a question from a reporter on Monday. She unwaveringly replied with one simple word: “Yes.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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