Excerpts from tough ruling allowing DA Fannie Willis to proceed in Georgia Trump election tampering case



CNN

The judge is Scott McAfee allow Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis was supposed to pursue the election-tampering case against Donald Trump — but she was forced to lose special prosecutor Nathan Wade after an embarrassing two months of investigating Willis and Wade's love affair.

It's a technical legal victory because Willis can sue Trump and 14 others along with his entire office.

But still McAfee's 23-page opinion It's a sharp rebuke of the district attorney's actions, and it's unclear whether Trump will face a hearing before November about his actions after the 2020 presidential election.

McAfee ruled that neither Wade nor Willis should step down from the case because the circumstances of their relationship “smell foul”. Wade sent his resignation letter hours later, saying he was resigning “in the interest of democracy, commitment to the American people, and to move this case forward expeditiously.”

Here are the excerpts from Friday's ruling:

Willis survives, but the DA and his case are hurt

Although Willis survived the disqualification challenge, the detour over her relationship with Wade left a stain on her case, both in court — potential jurors may be familiar with the episode — and the wider public, voting on whether to return. Trump to the White House in November.

McAfee was highly critical of Willis and Wade's relationship, describing it as the result of “bad choices”.

Nevertheless, “Georgia law simply does not permit a finding of actual conflict for making wrongful choices — even repeatedly,” he wrote.

Their relationship was thrust into the center of the case in January when co-defendant Mike Roman filed a motion to disqualify Willis over allegations of an “improper” relationship.

During several hearings, McAfee heard testimony about their relationship and money Wade made on trips they took together, with the defendants pointing out that the defendants benefited the district attorney financially from their relationship, but Willis countered that Wade was repaid in cash.

02:15 – Source: CNN

'This thing smells': CNN breaks down the judge's words in the Fannie Willis ruling

Both Willis and Wade took the stand — and Willis' appearance came at an unusual moment when he said he was eager to go to the courtroom and testify, offering an angry response to prosecutors bringing charges against him.

In his ruling Friday, the judge described Willis' fiery testimony as “unprofessional.”

“This finding in no way excuses this egregious lapse in judgment or the unprofessional manner of the district attorney's testimony during the evidentiary hearing,” the judge wrote.

Friday's ruling represents a partial victory in an effort to delay four of the former president's criminal trials and turn the tables on the prosecutors who accused him.

Trump's lawyers have successfully tried to delay all four criminal investigations that could sideline the former president from the campaign trail this year.

Trump's election tampering case is on hold in Washington while the Supreme Court hears arguments on the former president's immunity claims in April. A Trump-appointed judge is expected to set a new hearing date in the coming days after holding a hearing two weeks ago to discuss the timing of the classified documents case in Florida.

In New York, Trump's first criminal trial is set to begin in less than two weeks, a judge ruled Friday delayed the trial At least until mid-April after tens of thousands of new pages of evidence were turned over by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan.

Delay is not Trump's only chance for protection. His team has found ways to undermine Trump's dozens of criminal charges against prosecutors and to sow distrust in the legal system itself.

“A contradiction in the public's view of fairness threatens confidence in the legal system,” McAfee wrote Friday. “When this danger goes unchecked, it undermines the legal and moral power of our already fragile government.”

McAfee said there are questions about the timing of the relationship between Wade and Willis — which the defendants allege happened before Wade was hired in 2021 — and the money Wade paid when the two took trips together.

But he determined that there was no solid evidence for the allegations against them.

“Legitimate questions about whether the district attorney and his hand-picked lead SADA committed perjury about the timing of their relationship further warrant a finding of impropriety and the need to make proportionate efforts to cure it,” McAfee wrote.

But McAfee added: “Ultimately, dismissal of the indictment is not an appropriate remedy to adequately dispel the financial cloud of impropriety and potential impropriety found here.”

McAfee wrote that a key factor was that Willis' testimony and evidence demonstrating financial gain from Wade “was not a motivating factor on the part of the district attorney to prosecute and prosecute this case.”

McAfee wrote that there are no records of Willis paying Wade in reimbursement for a vacation they took together, but that he claims she paid him back in cash “is not inherently implausible.”

“Defendants have not presented sufficient evidence that the costs were not 'apportioned approximately equally,'” the judge wrote.

McAfee made clear in his ruling on Friday that if Wade proceeds in the case, the concept of “compromising implications” will continue in the case against Trump and others.

Although the judge gave Willis the option of removing himself or Wade from the case, there really wasn't a choice: If Willis had instead chosen to remove his office from the case, it would be transferred to the Georgia Council of Prosecuting Attorneys — a move that would otherwise have been made. Depending on who is in charge, a complex fraud case can be dangerously derailed.

“An outsider might reasonably think that the district attorney did not fully exercise his independent professional judgment without compromising implications. As long as the Wade case remains, this unwarranted opinion remains,” McAfee wrote.

The judge chided Wade for not disclosing her relationship with Willis in her divorce proceedings, suggesting it creates a public perception that she can continue to hide a financial or romantic relationship with Willis.

“Wade's noncommittal explanation for the misdemeanor hearings he submitted in the pending divorce indicates his desire to improperly conceal his relationship with the district attorney,” McAfee wrote. “As the case moves forward, the reasonable public can easily wonder whether the fair trades somehow benefit the district attorney or whether the romance has been rekindled.”

In his resignation letter to Willis on Friday, Wade said he was proud of his team's work.

“The advancement of the rule of law and democracy has always been the north star of our concerted efforts to prosecute those who allegedly attempted to subvert the results of Georgia's 2020 presidential election,” he said.

Accepting Wade's resignation, Willis thanked his former special counsel for his work.

“I will always remember — and remind everyone — your courage in moving forward with the investigation and prosecution of the allegations that the defendants in this case were involved in a conspiracy to subvert Georgia's 2020 presidential election,” Willis wrote.

“I commend you for the professionalism and dignity you have shown over the past 865 days, enduring threats against you and your family, as well as unjustified attacks on your reputation as a lawyer in the media and in court,” he added. .”

In a repeated condemnation of the district attorney's actions, McAfee wrote Friday that Willis' Remarks at an Atlanta-area church in January About the case “legally improper.”

He also warned of the possibility of a gag order against Willis in the future.

During a speech earlier this year, Willis defended Wade, saying he was targeted because he was a “black man.”

The January speech is one of the episodes cited by the defendants in their bid to disqualify Willis, who has publicly said he was stalking Trump and his co-defendants and could have prejudiced the case.

Willis later said in court filings that when he made those comments, he wasn't referring to criticism from defendants in his election-rigging lawsuit, including Trump.

McAfee said the comments were so far removed from a jury trial that “does not establish the permanent taint of the jury,” and that “the court could not find that the speech crossed the line to deny the defendants an opportunity for a fair trial or require disqualification of the district attorney.”

“But it is still legally improper,” McAfee wrote in his ruling Friday. “Offering this kind of public opinion creates dangerous waters for the district attorney to wade further.”

On the possibility of a gag order, the judge added, “The time may have come for an order restraining the mention of the case in any public forum to prevent discriminatory publicity, but that is not the motion before the court at present.”

CNN's Devan Cole, Jason Morris and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional updates.

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