Fani Willis should be allowed to continue prosecuting Trump 

OPINION: While Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis clearly showed poor judgment in engaging in a romantic relationship with a prosecutor, America needs to remain focused on Trump’s conduct and the threat to democracy that he represents.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on February 15, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images)

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

Former President Donald Trump — facing 91 felony criminal charges and fined hundreds of millions of dollars in civil lawsuits — continues to engage in baseless character assassination of his prosecutors, judges and accusers. One example is his salacious smear campaign against Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis over her relationship with a prosecutor she retained on the election interference case.

Willis, the top state prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, obtained grand jury indictments against Trump and others in August alleging they had “engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result,” Willis said at the time.

Trump faces 13 criminal charges in Georgia. One accuses him of demanding in a phone call recorded without his knowledge that Georgia’s secretary of state “find 11,780 votes” that did not exist to overturn now-President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in Georgia. You can hear the phone call for yourself in this link

As he often does, Trump is trying to divert attention from the accusations against him by making accusations against his accusers. His attorney and attorneys for his co-defendants did this in a hearing in Atlanta on Thursday and Friday in an effort to disqualify Willis from prosecuting Trump and others, on the grounds that she had a romantic relationship with the Nathan Wade, the lawyer she hired as the lead prosecutor in the case.

Wade acknowledged in testimony Thursday that he had a sexual relationship with Willis while separated from his estranged wife. But both Wade and Willis testified the relationship began in 2022 — after Willis hired him as a prosecutor the year before — and both testified the relationship ended months ago. Both also testified they split the cost of vacation trips they took together, so Willis did not benefit financially from the salary Wade earned working for her.

An angry Willis testified Thursday, addressing an attorney for one of the defendants in the case questioning her: “Do you think I’m on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.” 

Obviously, an effort to steal a presidential election is an extraordinary crime. The prosecution of Trump and 14 remaining co-defendants should not be delayed or derailed because Willis and Wade had a consensual romantic relationship that began after Wade was hired and that has ended. No one has alleged that Willis had a romantic relationship with any witnesses in the case or with anyone working to prevent Trump’s reelection.  

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Willis clearly showed poor judgment in moving from a professional to a romantic relationship with Wade. Many male supervisors have done the same thing with women working for them, but that’s no excuse.    

Still, the relationship between Willis and Wade is no reason to throw Willis and possibly her entire prosecution team off the case against Trump. That could delay the prosecution against Trump and his co-defendants for months or possibly end it entirely. This is a complicated case and it would take a new prosecutor a long time to get up to speed and be ready for a trial.

The focus on the Willis-Wade relationship brings to mind the long and ugly history of hypersexualizing Black people. LaGuardia Community College professor and sex educator Herbert Samuels told NPR in 2007 that “if you look at the history, and really going back to the mid-1500s or so and continuing on to slavery within the United States and even further than that, Black men and women were said to be animalistic in their sexual desires, particularly Black men,” and “Black women were [said to be] very easy and responded enthusiastically towards any sexual advance that anyone would want to approach them.”

Instead of focusing on the private lives of Willis and Wade, America needs to focus on Trump’s conduct and the threats his most fanatical followers have made and continue to make against anyone who seeks to hold the former president accountable for his conduct.

In the latest courtroom defeat for Trump, a state judge in New York issued an order Friday ordering Trump to pay a fine of almost $355 million plus interest and barring him from serving in a senior role in any New York company for three years in a civil fraud case. 

Trump has used $55.6 million in political campaign contributions he received in 2023 to pay his mounting legal bills in the cases he faces.

As for the threats being made by Trump supporters, Willis’ father, John Clifford Floyd, testified Friday that his daughter has been the subject of repeated death threats and racist attacks and had to move to new homes several times for her safety, despite security protection she is receiving from law enforcement officers. 

Floyd, who was temporarily living with his daughter when she began investigating the case against Trump, testified: “There were people outside her house cursing and yelling and calling her the B-word and the N-word. … They were going to kill her, they were going to kill me, they were going to kill my grandchildren. … Somebody sprayed the B-word and the N-word on the house. It was just so crazy.”

Crazy — and intolerable as well.

The bottom line is that Fani Willis is a dedicated prosecutor who has upended her life and is risking her life to uphold the principle that no one in America is above the law. She should be allowed to continue prosecuting Trump and his co-defendants, who should stand trial like anyone else accused of a crime so jurors can decide their guilt or innocence.  

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is a veteran political strategist, Senior Advisor at Purple Strategies, New York Times bestselling author, Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and sought-after Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning media contributor to such outlets as ABC News, USA Today and TheGrio. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. Donna was the first Black American to serve as the manager of a major-party presidential campaign, running the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in 2000. She serves as an adjunct professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Georgetown University and served as the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University and as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. She has lectured at nearly 250 colleges and universities on diversity, equity and inclusion; women in leadership; and restoring civility in American politics.

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