Donald Trump on Thursday joined a push to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from prosecuting Fulton County’s election interference case, saying her defiant remarks at a historic Black church showed “racial animus” toward the former president and his co-defendants.
In a court filing, Trump’s two top Atlanta attorneys accused Willis, who is Black, of a “glaring, flagrant, and calculated effort to foment racial bias into this case.” That could unfairly prejudice a jury, they said, and violated Georgia’s rules of professional conduct.
Trump’s lawyers Steve Sadow and Jennifer Little weighed in a little more than two weeks after explosive allegations emerged that Willis was in a secret relationship with one of the case’s special prosecutors and benefitting financially from it.
Willis’ only public comments about the claims so far came in a recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at downtown’s Big Bethel AME Church. During her 35-minute speech, Willis didn’t address the relationship accusations head-on but defended the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, who is also Black, and accused her critics of playing the “race card.”
Sadow and Little argued the DA’s “provocative and inflammatory extrajudicial racial comments, made in a widely publicized speech at a historical Black church in Atlanta, and cloaked in repeated references to God, reinforce and amplify the ‘appearance of impropriety’ in her judgment and prosecutorial conduct.”
A Willis spokesman declined to comment.
Trump’s team officially signed on to a motion from case codefendant Michael Roman that asks Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the Trump case, to dismiss the charges against him and for Willis and her entire office to be removed from the probe.
McAfee is holding a hearing on the matter on February 15. The judge has directed Willis to formally to respond to the allegations by February 2.
Trump’s filing also argues that Willis’ assertion that her critics are playing the “race card” increases the likelihood that the public and prospective jurors will develop a “substantial prejudice towards the defendants.”
Sadow and Little said Willis’ remarks violated Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which directs prosecutors to “refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.”
During her speech at Big Bethel, the DA noted that opponents were only criticizing the case’s one Black special prosecutor and not his two white counterparts.
“First thing they say, oh, she gonna to play the race card now,” Willis said. “But no, God, isn’t it them who’s playing the race card when they only question one?”
Trump’s filing is another sign of how testy and personal the Trump probe has gotten, even among the attorneys working the case.
The New York Times reported about a recent email exchange between prosecutors and defense attorneys that began with Sadow complaining about the DA’s office ignoring one of his requests. Willis later weighed in, saying, “In the legal community (and the world at large) some people will never be able to respect African Americans and/or women as their equal and counterpart,” according to the newspaper.
The new filing from Trump’s legal team came following a busy week. On Monday, a Cobb judge granted Willis at least a temporary reprieve from a subpoena from Wade’s estranged wife, Joycelyn, in their contentious divorce case, and also unsealed the documents from the proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Georgia Senate announced it will take up a resolution on Friday that would create a panel to investigate the Willis-Wade allegations. Though it would have no power to sanction Willis, the committee could subpoena witnesses and evidence and require that testimony be given under oath.
“This resolution will empower the Senate to address the multitude of questions raised by Georgians regarding the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office,” said the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming. “I am eager to see its adoption, which will emphasize the importance of transparency, accountability and integrity within our judicial system.”
Also Thursday, McAfee heard arguments as to whether former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, a codefendant in the Trump case, is entitled to White House decisions as to whether former top Justice officials were given permission to testify in the case — or whether they were told they couldn’t testify.
Clark’s attorney, Harry MacDougald, said there is no case against Clark if then-Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue are not allowed to testify that they told Clark he could not send a letter to top Georgia officials saying the agency had found “significant concerns” about the election in a number of states, including Georgia.
”You’d be fine if they didn’t show up in court?” McAfee asked.
”I’d be thrilled,” MacDougald replied.
MacDougald is also seeking any communications between the DA’s office and the White House because he contends Clark’s indictment was politically motivated.
McAfee did not issue an immediate ruling on either motion. After Fulton prosecutor Alex Bernick said the DA’s office received two letters from the White House, McAfee said he would review them in private before making a decision.
Staff writers Bill Rankin and David Wickert contributed to this article.