Andrew Goodsworth and Tom Hulse
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Fanny Willis, the Georgia state attorney who is leading a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s attempts to undo his 2020 election defeat, is also considering whether witnesses in the grand jury case lied under oath.
It was one of the revelations in a five-page special grand jury report on Trump, released Thursday under a judge’s order, that could open up new criminal targets for Willis, who has been called the “courtroom pit bull.” “
The 51-year-old Fulton County District Attorney will need such tenacity if she decides to file a criminal case against Trump, who is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
A special grand jury report released Thursday showed the panel found that several witnesses may have lied under oath during an investigation into Trump’s attempts to undo his state election defeat.
The indictment of the former president will have a different meaning for the local prosecutor, whose office usually handles violent crime and delinquency in the Atlanta area.
Some of her big cases to date include allegations against teachers who cheated to improve their students’ standardized test scores in order to get cash bonuses and promotions, and allegations against a rapper accused of gang activity. In both cases, she invoked an anti-racketeering law aimed at fighting organized crime.
Willis, a Democrat, has taken an aggressive approach in the Trump investigation, subpoenaing some of his allies, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and fighting court battles to get them to testify.
Trump did not testify and was not charged with a crime.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black, white, Democrat or Republican,” Willis, a black man, told CNN last year. “If you broke the law, you will be charged.”
Trump, who announced another 2024 presidential nomination in November, denies wrongdoing and calls Willis a “radical left accuser.”
A spokesman for Willis did not respond to a request for comment on the story.
At the heart of the investigation is Trump’s January 2021 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to “find” enough votes to make up for his narrow loss in a key state to Democrat Joe Biden. Willis also explored a scheme to designate an alternate electoral roll in an attempt to transfer Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump, rather than Biden, before Congress approves the election results.
To help with the Trump investigation, Willis hired Atlanta-based private attorney John Floyd, who wrote a guide to prosecuting government racketeering charges and worked with Willis on the teacher’s case. The move has led to speculation that she is building a case against Trump or his associates over Georgia’s organized crime law.
Trump accused her of stalking him for political gain and criticized her efforts to combat violent crime in Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city and part of Fulton County.
Willis told the judge on January 24 that the decision to prosecute would be “inevitable” after the special grand jury has completed its deliberations. The five-page grand jury report was released Thursday, although any recommendations on criminal charges remain closed for now. It is possible that no charges will arise as a result of the investigation.
“GIVE HER AN INCH”
“She’s a pit bull in the courtroom,” said Vincent Velasquez, a former Atlanta homicide detective who worked with Willis during her time as an assistant district attorney. “You give her an inch, she’ll take a foot.”
Willis told South Atlanta Magazine in 2021 that she was raised primarily by her father, a criminal defense lawyer who was a member of the Black Panther Party, a black power movement that began in the 1960s.
She graduated from Howard University, a historic black college in Washington that Vice President Kamala Harris also attended, and Emory University Law School in Atlanta before working as a criminal and family law attorney in private practice.
Willis served from 2001 to 2018 at the Fulton County Attorney’s Office, then won election as District Attorney in 2020 by defeating her former boss, Paul Howard. She faces re-election next year.
Georgia’s racketeering law is more far-reaching than its federal counterpart and allows charges to be brought against “corrupt organizations” if prosecutors can prove they were involved in a scheme involving two or more separate crimes.
In the teachers’ case, the jury found 11 of the 12 defendants who went to trial in 2015 guilty of racketeering and conspiracy.
Some defense attorneys expressed concern that Willis deviated from the intended use of the law and targeted speech protected by the US Constitution.
“There is abuse and abuse of the law going on,” said Jay Abt, a Georgia criminal defense attorney who represents witnesses in the election investigation and defends accused rapper Deamonte Kendrick, known as “Yak Gotti.”
Kendrick was indicted by Willis, along with rapper Jeffrey Lamar Williams, who performs as Young Thug, and other hip-hop artists accused of being involved in street gangs. This trial is ongoing.
“She wants to understand all the issues before making a decision,” Brian Steele, a lawyer representing Young Thug, said of Willis.
Steele said Willis often eats lunch at his office and responds to text messages at all hours of the night.
“She will tell you why she agrees or disagrees, and will refuse cases,” Steele added.
(Reporting by Andrew Goodsward in Washington and Tom Hulse in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Will Dunham, David Bario, and Noeleen Walder)