Georgia prosecutor fights back against Trump attempt to remove her from election probe

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a portrait, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in...
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis poses for a portrait, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)(AP)
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 5:37 PM EDT|Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 8:35 PM EDT
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia prosecutor who’s investigating whether Donald Trump and his allies broke any laws as they tried to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state fought back Monday against the former president’s attempt to remove her from the case and exclude certain evidence.

Trump’s Georgia legal team in March asked the court to toss out the report of a special grand jury that had been seated in the case and to prevent prosecutors from using any evidence or testimony stemming from the panel’s investigation. They also asked that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her office be barred from continuing to investigate or prosecute the case.

Willis responded in a filing Monday that Trump’s motion is “procedurally flawed” and advances “arguments that lack merit.”

For more than two years now, Willis has been investigating the actions Trump and others took in the wake of the 2020 election. She took the unusual step last year of asking for a special grand jury to aid the investigation, saying the panel’s subpoena power would allow her team to compel the testimony of people who might not otherwise cooperate.

The special grand jury, which did not have the power to issue indictments, was seated last May and dissolved in January after hearing from 75 witnesses and submitting a report with recommendations for Willis. Though most of that report remains under wraps for now according to a judge’s order, the panel’s foreperson has said without naming names that the special grand jury recommended charging multiple people.

Trump lawyers Drew Findling, Jennifer Little and Marissa Goldberg argued that the special grand jury “involved a constant lack of clarity as to the law, inconsistent applications of basic constitutional protections for individuals being brought before it, and a prosecutor’s office that was found to have an actual conflict, yet continued to pursue the investigation.”

They also asked that their claims be heard by a judge other than Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury.

Cathy Latham, one of 16 Georgia Republicans who met at the state Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, and signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors, last month joined Trump’s motion. It has become clear during the investigation that Willis is interested in the actions of the fake electors, and at least eight of them have secured immunity deals in the case.

In her motion Monday, Willis asked that McBurney retain supervision of the matter and urged that Trump and Latham’s motions be dismissed or denied without holding a hearing.

Willis wrote that the arguments put forth in the motions fail to meet the “exacting standards” for disqualifying a prosecutor and they also fail to prove their claims that their own due process rights have been violated or that the grand jury process was “tainted” or the law governing it unconstitutional.

Trump and Latham “are not content to follow the ordinary course of the law,” Willis wrote.

“The State’s reply was primarily procedural in nature and failed to address several of the critical substantive issues which were discussed at length in our brief and exhibits,” Trump’s lawyers said in a statement, adding that they plan to ask the court for time to file a response.

A coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press, also filed a motion Monday objecting to Trump’s request that the special grand jury report be “quashed and expunged from the record.”

“Not only is such a remedy unsupported by any legal basis, it would also be starkly at odds with the fundamental principles of this Nation and State,” the media lawyers argued. “The Report is a matter of the utmost public concern, and it should be released to the public in its entirety.”

Willis last month sent letters to local law enforcement leaders advising them to prepare for “heightened security” as she intends to announce charging decisions in the case between July 11 and Sept. 1. To secure an indictment, she needs to bring the case before a regular grand jury.

The Georgia investigation is one of several that threatens the former president as he campaigns to regain the White House in 2024. A Manhattan grand jury in March indicted him on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments to a porn actor during the 2016 presidential election. Meanwhile, federal grand juries in Washington are investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election and the potential mishandling of classified documents by Trump at his Florida estate.

And a federal jury in New York last week found Trump liable for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, awarding her $5 million.