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It's a 'silly notion' that Trump's Georgia case should pause for the election, Willis tells the AP

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It's a 'silly notion' that Trump's Georgia case should pause for the election, Willis tells the AP
December 13, 2023

ATLANTA (AP) — The district attorney prosecuting Donald Trump over efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia says she has a duty to file charges against anyone who violates the law and that it’s a “silly notion” that the former president’s case should be paused just because he is running for office.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis declined to say whether she or her team has been in touch with U.S. Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, who has filed federal charges in an election interference case against Trump in Washington. She also raised the possibility that more of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the Georgia case could take plea deals, further paring down the number who could go on trial with him.

Willis is seeking an August trial date for Trump and his co-defendants, a time frame that would put the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in court defending himself in the months, weeks and even days leading up to the November general election. Trump lawyer Steve Sadow has said that if Trump is the nominee, that would be “the most effective election interference in the history of the United States.”

Willis brushed off that idea, pointing out that prosecutors all over the country are always investigating people for various crimes and that they do not stop doing so just because someone runs for office.

“If the prosecutor finds that they violated the law, they have an ethical duty to bring forth charges and so this is a silly notion to me that because one runs from office that your criminal case would stop,” she said.

Willis has alleged that Trump, lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and others participated in a wide-ranging scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election after voters elected Democrat Joe Biden as president.

Four of the 19 people charged have pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors. Trump, Giuliani, Meadows and the others remaining have pleaded not guilty.

Willis and her team have said they want to have a single trial for the rest of the defendants. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the case, has expressed skepticism about the idea of trying too many people at once. He said earlier this month that even 12 people at once could be a stretch.

Willis disagrees with the judge on that. “My answer would be it's whittled down now to a size we can try, but I don't know that all 15 will be at the table once they get through the process," she said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been exchanging evidence. Pretrial motions for most of the defendants are due early next month.

As they sift through that evidence and once the judge rules on what is permissible for trial, some defense lawyers may advise their clients that a negotiated plea is in their best interest, Willis said.

Asked whether she expects that Trump will spend time behind bars in Georgia once the case runs its course, Willis declined to speak about any particular defendant. But she noted that the indictment includes serious charges, including alleged violations of the state’s anti-racketeering law, that carry significant prison time.

“You can look at the statutes that we charged. It's a very serious case,” she said. “And there are consequences to violating serious laws.”

The case is one of four criminal prosecutions brought against Trump this year, and it has significant overlap with the indictment brought in Washington by Smith.

Willis would not say whether her office had been in contact with Smith, but she seemed to indicate that she had no reason to seek help from him.

“A woman in Georgia is able to get evidence, look at the evidence and make charging decisions, and we can actually do it all here in the state of Georgia," said Willis, a Democrat who is up for reelection next year.

Some Republicans have suggested that her case against Trump is politically motivated.

She has been involved in a caustic back-and-forth with U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a close Trump ally. Jordan has demanded that Willis turn over documents, including any communications with the Justice Department or federal executive branch officials related to her investigation.

Closer to home, legislators in Georgia passed a law this year creating a commission to discipline and remove state prosecutors. Willis said she finds it “very interesting” that while the law was framed as a way to go after prosecutors who were improperly refusing to prosecute certain crimes, some Republicans tried to use it to target her, “someone who actually did their job, that did bring forth cases.”

Georgia's Supreme Court last month refused to approve rules for the commission, preventing it from acting, for now.

Additionally, a state Senate subcommittee is looking into the problem-plagued Fulton County Jail, where Trump and his co-defendants were booked and processed shortly after they were indicted. One co-defendant, Harrison William Prescott Floyd, spent several days at the jail after failing to negotiate a bond agreement before surrendering.

Some Republicans have placed some of the blame for overcrowding at the jail on Willis, suggesting she is expending too many resources on the Trump prosecution and neglecting other cases.

“They don't know what they're talking about in terms of the facts of the jail, nor do they understand the process,” Willis said. She said a vast majority of those who are arrested are given bonds within 72 hours. She noted that the law says anyone held more than 90 days without being indicted is entitled to a bond.

The jail is under the control of the sheriff, not the district attorney, and Willis agreed that it needs to be replaced. She said county officials have “sat on their hands” for too long, not wanting to invest in the jail "and now the chickens are coming home to roost."

She said state senators should instead focus on the violent and understaffed state prison system, which is under their jurisdiction.

The Justice Department has opened investigations into detention conditions in both Fulton County and the state prison system.


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