The head of a Georgia Senate panel investigating accusations against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said “several” whistleblowers in her office want to speak to his committee.
The panel is planning to hire an outside attorney and researcher as it looks into whether Willis, a Democrat, misused state money by engaging in a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade — whom she hired to help lead the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“There are whistleblowers inside the Fulton County DA’s office raising complaints and allegations about the misuse of both federal funds and state funds,” said state Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican who is leading the Special Committee on Investigations. “We’ve had people come forward that have asked to speak with us with relevant information. I don’t know that information yet. I’ve not interviewed them, but there are people that have information they want to share with us.”
The committee has the ability to subpoena people and evidence, and require that testimony be given under oath. No other legislative committees require that witnesses testify under oath. Under the measure, if the committee finds there has been misconduct, it can recommend changes to state law.
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
The panel is made up of six Republicans and three Democrats.
Senate Democratic Leader Gloria Butler of Stone Mountain said: “I think a political witch hunt or show trial would damage Georgia as a state in both our political and legal system. Our duty as public servants is to strengthen, not weaken, that faith.”
Some or all of the whistleblowers could give their testimony in private. It’s unclear if their testimony would be shared publicly — while shielding the person’s identity.
Cowsert said the panel doesn’t have the power to prosecute, disqualify, bring charges, disbar or discipline Willis or anyone else through its investigation.
“Our job is to investigate many of these troubling allegations that have come forward in the last few months, determine what the true facts are, independently investigate and verify true facts and shine a light on these facts whatever they may be,” he said. “If we need to amend existing laws or pass and create new laws to restore the public’s faith in the impartiality and fairness of our criminal justice system, we will be looking into those options.”
Cowsert said the investigation is not a “political witch hunt” or payback for Willis’ investigation into Trump. He said the Georgia Senate has not tried to “interfere or intervene” until recently when allegations against Willis and Wade made headlines.
“It was after The Atlanta Journal(-Constitution) and other Atlanta news outlets began reporting a lot of troubling allegations of prosecution for personal gain, misuse of federal funds, misuse of state funds, potential improprieties, improper relationships ... (that) the state Senate got interested,” Cowsert told reporters Friday after leading the inaugural meeting of the investigative panel.
Cowsert said he wasn’t sure how much the state could end up spending on the panel’s outside staffing.
“We are not going to be lavish in any expenditures, I can assure you that,” Cowsert said. “That’s one of the complaints against Miss Willis — that they’ve spent probably $1 million from a special grand jury up to indictments and a special counsel. ... We’re not going to duplicate that and be lavishly spending money, but we’ve got to make sure that there’s experts in the fields that know how to properly construct and draft subpoenas and how to enforce those in court if need be.”
Since the General Assembly has exempted itself from the Open Records Act, it’s unclear that the public will ever know how much the Senate’s committee will spend on outside investigators and attorneys to look into the Willis accusations.
Three Republicans with Georgia Senate ties were on a slate of Georgia electors put forward by the GOP that cast ballots for Trump in 2020, despite the fact that Democrat Joe Biden won the state.
State Sen. Shawn Still, a Norcross Republican, and former state Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, who was chairman of the GOP in 2020, were indicted in their roles as Republican electors. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who was a senator at the time, also served as a Trump elector and was investigated but has not been indicted.
The establishment of the committee is the latest attempt by Senate Republicans to investigate or discipline Willis. During the summer, Republican senators created a panel that was tasked with investigating overcrowding, a backlog of cases and dangerous conditions at the Fulton County Jail — though they said the subcommittee had nothing to do with politics or Willis.
Willis’ opponents have accused the district attorney of focusing too much attention on the Trump investigation instead of moving criminal cases through initial hearings that could ease overcrowding in the jail.