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Fani Willis, Trump Georgia case prosecutor, ends silence on misconduct accusations

She didn’t directly address the most salacious allegations but suggested racism is at the heart of claims against her

Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis, who is overseeing former president Donald Trump's case, accused her critics of playing the "race card." (Video: Big Bethel AME Church)
8 min

ATLANTA — Nearly one week after Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) was accused of hiring a romantic partner to lead a sprawling election-interference case against former president Donald Trump and then financially benefiting from his salary, Willis broke her silence in a Sunday speech before the congregation of a historic Black church in Atlanta, suggesting racism was at the heart of the allegations.

Willis did not deny or directly address the most salacious allegations, but she pushed back on claims that she had done anything improper in hiring outside attorney Nathan Wade to lead the case. In a 35-minute speech before the Big Bethel AME Church that was at turns emotional and fiery, Willis suggested race had played a role in criticism of her, a Black woman and the first female district attorney in Fulton County, and Wade, a Black man.

Willis criticized those who had seized on the allegations — offered without proof in a court filing by one of Trump’s co-defendants — calling out by name Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has pushed for a criminal investigation into Willis and Wade.

“They are going to be mad when I call them out on this nonsense,” Willis said. “First thing they say, ‘Oh, she’s going to play the race card.’ But … isn’t it them playing the race card when they think I need someone in some other jurisdiction in some other state to tell me how to do a job I’ve been doing almost 30 years?”

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Without naming Wade, Willis strongly defended him, describing him as a lawyer of “impeccable credentials” with decades of experience who helped assemble the prosecution team and bring the case against Trump and more than a dozen of his allies.

Willis did not address the claim that she had a romantic relationship with Wade, an allegation leveled in a filing by Mike Roman, one of Trump’s remaining 14 co-defendants in the criminal case and a high-ranking campaign aide during the 2020 election. She repeatedly referred to herself as a “flawed” and “imperfect” public servant — pointing to how Martin Luther King Jr. was also an imperfect human being called to public service and changing the world. The only perfect person was Jesus, Willis told the congregation.

“Today, what he has brought you is his very flawed, hardheaded and imperfect servant,” she said.

Throughout her remarks, Willis seemed to nod at some of the allegations. Roman alleged in his filing that Wade used money he earned as a special prosecutor — his firm has been paid more than $650,000 by the district attorney’s office since he was tapped as an outside prosecutor on the case in November 2021 — to fund lavish vacations with Willis. Motioning to her clothing, Willis pointedly said she had put on her most “lavish” outfit for the occasion — a $29.99 black dress from the discount retailer Ross.

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Willis repeatedly declared that it was her “right” as district attorney to appoint a special prosecutor — and pointed out that she had hired three outside attorneys, not just Wade, to work on the election interference case.

In addition to Wade, Willis retained John Floyd, a nationally known expert on racketeering laws, and Anna Cross, a former prosecutor who has assisted the district attorney’s office in recent federal court arguments. She described all three lawyers as legal “superstars” and, she pointedly added, were longtime personal friends. She questioned why critics weren’t attacking her hiring of Cross and Floyd, and she suggested it was because they are White.

“I am a little confused. I appointed three special counsel, which is my right to do. Paid them all the same hourly rate. They only attack one,” Willis said of her critics. “Why are they surprised that a diverse team that I have assembled … can accomplish an extraordinary thing?”

Willis acknowledged the personal toll the allegations against her have taken — describing the past several days as a “low point” in her time as district attorney, in which she has already faced threats, including racially motivated attacks, tied to her handling of the Trump case and other high-profile indictments she has pursued.

Willis spoke of the unexpected “loneliness” and ugliness that had come with the job, and called out her critics, mentioning Green specifically.

“Dear God, I do not want to be like those that attacked me,” Willis said. “I never want to be a Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has never met me but has allowed her spirit to be filled with hate. How does this woman, who has the honor of being a leader in my state, how is it that she has not reached out to me?

“She can tell me, ‘I don’t agree with anything you’re doing, but I do not agree with people threatening your life or the life of your family,’” Willis added. “How did such a woman come to think that it was normal and normalized that another woman was worthy of such cruelty? I would never wish for her to have the experiences or the threats that I receive, the derogatory name calling, the being doxed multiple times.”

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The filing from Roman last week provided no evidence to back up the allegations. Ashleigh Merchant, a prominent Cobb County defense attorney who represents Roman, later told The Washington Post that the claims were based on sources that she did not name, as well as records she said had been disclosed as part of Wade’s ongoing divorce proceedings but were filed under seal.

On Friday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said he planned to schedule a hearing next month to address the allegations — but was first waiting to see a response from Willis. A spokesman for Willis said last week that the district attorney would formally respond to the allegations in a court filing, which has yet to be submitted.

Willis’s remarks Sunday, while not fully addressing the allegations, marked the end of days of silence on an issue that has proved to be both legally and politically fraught in a high-profile case that has already drawn intense public scrutiny and attacks from Trump and his supporters. Green and others have seized on the allegations, urging Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and other state officials to investigate. On Friday, Kemp, a key witness in the case against Trump, called the claims “deeply troubling.”

“Evidence should be presented quickly in order for Judge McAfee to rule and the public to have confidence in this trial moving forward,” Kemp told reporters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Sunday was the first time Willis had been seen in public since Roman’s motion. Her appearance at Big Bethel AME as part of a special Sunday service honoring King ahead of the holiday that honors him Monday had been previously scheduled, and though her office suggested she intended to honor the invitation as the church’s keynote speaker, it was not clear Willis would talk about the controversy.

News of her impending appearance was the leading news story on local television Sunday, and as Willis entered the church sanctuary to the soaring soundtrack of a choir and an archival audio of a sermon from King urging followers to keep strong in their faith, her every move was trailed by a bank of local news cameras set up in the church balcony.

Willis was introduced by Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the presiding bishop of the AME Sixth Episcopal District of Georgia, who praised her as a “purposeful and principled” prosecutor who has been dedicated to her job and seeking justice. “She has been faithful to her oath and to the people of Fulton County,” Jackson said.

Taking the pulpit, Willis appeared almost immediately emotional, asking the congregation to give her a moment. “I hope for y’all this week I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” she said.

Willis spoke at length at the toll that the job as district attorney had taken on her personal life — speaking about a swatting incident that had taken place at her home outside Atlanta on Christmas where a caller had reported that someone had been shot. Willis, who said she has not been living at her home because of threats, said at first she had feared that one of her adult children who might have been there had been injured or killed. She eventually learned it was all a hoax.

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Willis said she had leaned heavily on her Christian faith as district attorney — especially in recent days. She spoke of speaking to God about the trials she faced and how being Fulton County’s top prosecutor had brought more pressure than she ever expected.

“Seven of the highest-profile cases in the United States going to land right here?” Willis said. “No, please make it stop. God, you forgot to mention that my life and the life of my family would be threatened so regularly, I now think it’s not normal if I don’t have two death threats a week. God, you did not tell me that people would call me the n-word more than they call me Fani.”

More on the Trump Georgia case

The latest: Four of Trump’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty in the Georgia election case. Trump previously entered a plea of not guilty. The Washington Post published details of recorded statements given to prosecutors by the co-defendants who accepted plea deals in the case, offering previously undisclosed information about the effort by Trump and his allies to reverse his defeat.

The charges: Trump was charged with 13 counts, including violating the state’s racketeering act. Read the full text of the Georgia indictment. Here’s a breakdown of the charges against Trump and a list of everyone else who was charged in the Georgia case. Trump now faces 91 total charges in four criminal cases.

The case: Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) has been investigating whether Trump and his associates broke the law when they sought to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. Here’s what happens next in the Georgia case.

Historic mug shot: Trump surrendered at the Fulton County Jail on charges that he illegally conspired to overturn his 2020 election loss. Authorities released his booking record — including his height and weight — and mug shot.