Trump and Co-defendants Seek Appeal Over DA’s Role in Georgia Election Case


Former President Donald Trump and eight other defendants accused of illegally interfering in Georgia’s 2020 election filed a formal application on Friday to appeal a judge’s decision to keep Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on the case.

Trump and other defendants attempted to have Willis and her office removed from the case, claiming her intimate relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade caused a conflict of interest. Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled earlier this month that no conflict of interest required Willis to leave the case, but that the prosecution was “encumbered by an appearance of impropriety.”

McAfee decided that Willis may continue her prosecution if Wade left the case, prompting the special prosecutor to resign hours later. Lawyers for Trump and other defendants then urged McAfee to let them to appeal his decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which he granted.

The next stage in the procedure is to submit a formal application to the appeals court. The Court of Appeals has 45 days to determine whether to take up the case. McAfee has stated that he will continue to pursue the case in the meantime, and he held a motion hearing on Thursday to that aim.

The charges that Willis had unjustly benefited from her connection with Wade turned the case upside down for weeks. In mid-February, intimate details of Willis and Wade’s personal lives were revealed in court, overshadowing serious claims in one of four criminal cases brought against the Republican former president. Trump and 18 people were indicted in August, accused of conspiring to illegally overturn his narrow 2020 presidential election loss to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia.

All of the defendants were charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, which is a broad anti-racketeering provision. Four defendants involved in the case have pleaded guilty after striking an agreement with prosecutors. Trump and the others have pleaded not guilty.

The appeal application claims that McAfee was incorrect in not excluding both Willis and Wade from the case, stating that “providing DA Willis with the option to simply remove Wade confounds logic and is contrary to Georgia law.”

The application claims that dismissing the case is “the truly appropriate remedy” since the harm done to the defendants and their due process rights cannot be fully undone even by disqualifying Willis and her office. However, her disqualification is “the minimum that must be done to remove the stain of her legally improper and unethical conduct from the remainder of the case,” it states.

A spokeswoman for Willis declined to comment.

The claims against Willis were initially made public in an early January motion filed by Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer for former Trump campaign staffer and onetime White House assistant Michael Roman. The motion claimed that Willis and Wade were in an illicit romantic relationship and that Willis compensated Wade well for his job and then profited when he paid for expensive vacations.

Willis and Wade acknowledged their relationship but stated it began in the spring of 2022 after Wade was hired in November 2021, and terminated last summer. They also testified that they divided trip costs fairly 50-50, with Willis frequently covering expenses or reimbursing Wade in cash.

McAfee determined that Willis’ relationship with Wade and his position as lead prosecutor in the case created the appearance of impropriety, and his failure to disqualify Willis and her entire office from the case “is plain legal error requiring reversal,” the defense attorneys wrote in their application.

The motion states that many trials will most likely be required due to the case’s complexity and the number of defendants. Failure to disqualify Willis now might result in any verdicts being reversed, and it would be “neither prudent nor efficient” to risk having to go through “this painful, divisive, and expensive process” again, it claims.

Lawyers for Trump and the other defendants claimed that during a speech in mid-January at a historically Black church in Atlanta, Willis inappropriately introduced race and religion into the case, jeopardizing any future jury pool against the defendants. The appeal filing also accuses her of providing false testimony under oath at a hearing last month. It claims that her activities amount to forensic misconduct, which should disqualify her.

In his decision, McAfee highlighted a lack of appellate guidance on the subject of disqualifying a prosecutor for forensic misconduct, and defense lawyers argued that the appeals court should hear the case to establish such a precedent.

Finally, the defense attorneys stated that it is critical for prosecutors to “remain and appear to be disinterested and impartial” to maintain public trust in the legal system.

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