A ‘Big’ Win for Trump as Fani Willis’s Case Is Frozen by the Court That Could Soon Disqualify Her

The 45th president reckons that a ‘big thing happened in Georgia.’

Photo by Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, at Atlanta. Photo by Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images

The decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals to stay District Attorney Fani Willis’s racketeering case against President Trump and 18 others underscores the precarity of that sprawling and now frozen prosecution.    

Wednesday’s order that the “proceedings below in the Superior Court of Fulton County are hereby stayed pending the outcome of these appeals” means that there will be no movement in the case for months. The Court of Appeals has scheduled a tentative date of October 4 to hear Trump’s arguments for Ms. Willis’s disqualification. Trump faces ten charges at Fulton County.

Now, though, the case could stretch well into 2025. CNN relates that Trump on Wednesday told reporters that “a big thing happened in Georgia today.” He wants Ms. Willis to be disqualified from the case and the indictment she brought to be dismissed. The Supreme Court could also endorse Trump’s claim to “absolute immunity,” which could derail this prosecution as well.  

In staying the proceedings, the three judges who will hear the case are reversing the decision of the trial court judge, Scott McAfee, that the case could proceed during appeal. Judge McAfee ruled that Ms. Willis could stay on the case if her special prosecutor and former boyfriend, Nathan Wade, departed. Trump contends that the relationship between Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis is a conflict of interest that taints the case. 

Judge McAfee appeared sympathetic to that argument, detecting an “odor of mendacity” in how Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade comported themselves, including under oath. He also found a “significant appearance of impropriety” in their behavior. Ms. Willis’s office paid Mr. Wade more than $650,000, and they took vacations together to Aruba, Belize, and Napa Valley. The district attorney maintains that she reimbursed Mr. Wade in cash.  

The judge also found the district attorney’s accusation that her defendants were “playing the race card” to be “legally improper,” but demurred from determining it to be the kind of “forensic misconduct” that would mandate recusal. He wrote, though, that “whether this case ends in convictions, acquittals, or something in between, the result should be one that instills confidence.”

In a statement sent to the Sun, Trump’s attorney, Steven Sadow, writes that “the Georgia Court of Appeals has properly stayed all proceedings against President Trump in the trial court pending its decision on our interlocutory appeal which argues the case should be dismissed and Fulton County DA Willis should be disqualified for her misconduct.” 

The Court of Appeals could make that decision solely on the basis of the briefs, or elect to hear oral arguments. The choice to hear the appeal suggests that the judges could possess reservations about some or all of Judge McAfee’s conclusions. His opinion acknowledged that this is a case with slim precedent. If those oral arguments are heard on October 4, the court will have until the middle of March to issue a decision. The losing side could then appeal to the Georgia supreme court. 

The decision to stay the proceedings pending a decision on disqualification suggests that the Court of Appeals has taken the position, contra Judge McAfee, that the prosecutor cannot be separated from the prosecution. This conclusion could relate to her handing up of racketeering charges, a litigation strategy that has become a favorite of Ms. Willis’s but also one that could be eschewed if another prosecutor is eventually named to the case.

Ms. Willis’s office did not return a request for comment. After Judge McAfee’s decision, she declared that her team was “writing responsive briefs” and “still doing the case in a way that it needed to be done.” She added that she didn’t “feel like we’ve been slowed down at all … there are efforts to slow down this train, but the train is coming.” Now, that train is stopped.

The New York Sun

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