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DA Fani Willis to face primary challenge amid Trump case disqualification fight

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is already facing a charged legal battle to bar her from prosecuting the election subversion case she brought against former President Donald Trump and more than a dozen allies in Georgia.

Now, she’s facing at least two new hurdles: Democrat Christian Wise Smith, a former Fulton prosecutor and Atlanta solicitor, on Friday launched a primary campaign challenging Willis. Shortly after Smith’s announcement, Republican lawyer Courtney Kramer, an attorney who worked in the Office of the White House Counsel under Trump, joined the race.

Willis and Smith will faceoff on May 21 in the Democratic primary. Kramer is expected to advance, as the GOP nominee, to the general election on November 5. A longtime Democratic stronghold and home to the city of Atlanta, Fulton County will present an uphill challenge for Kramer, a vocal Trump supporter.

Willis emerged as a national figure shortly after the 2020 election, when she opened an investigation that ultimately led to criminal conspiracy charges against Trump and others accused of trying to steal Georgia’s electoral votes from their rightful winner, Joe Biden. But Willis has come under increased legal and political scrutiny in recent months after a lawyer for one of the defendants revealed that Willis had a romantic relationship with an attorney she hired to help run the Trump case, Nathan Wade.

The court hearing the disqualification effort is expected to rule on Willis’ status within the next week.

Regardless of that outcome, Willis will first have to win the May 21 primary to continue her campaign to keep her seat in the fall.

Asked if his decision to run had anything to do with Willis facing disqualification in the Trump racketeering case, Wise Smith told CNN, “I’ll reserve my comments [about her current situation] until after we know more. Then we will decide if we go full steam ahead with this campaign after the decision. Today was the final day to qualify. Right now, we’re just dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s.”

“I’ve run for this office before. I’m very passionate about making sure the citizens of Fulton County feel confident in their DA,” he added.

Smith previously ran against Willis when she was elected district attorney in 2020. He lost the primary to Willis and former District Attorney Paul Howard, whom he later endorsed in a runoff. Smith also lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general in 2022.

A spokesperson for Willis did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

CNN has also reached out to Kramer for comment.

While people close to Willis privately acknowledge her future on the Georgia subversion case is certainly at risk, allies of the Fulton County DA have attempted to rally around her in recent weeks with various demonstrations of public support.

Several prominent Georgia Democrats and local political heavyweights were present in the courtroom last month during the first two days of hearings, including when Willis took the stand and testified in her own defense.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, a Democrat, was sitting close to the front row behind the DA’s team on the second day of hearings. Dickens felt “compelled to walk over to the courthouse in a show of solidarity” after seeing coverage of Willis’ testimony the day before, his press secretary told CNN at the time.

“We know who’s on trial, and it’s not her. It’s Donald Trump for attempting to steal an election,” Dickens said at a news conference from City Hall that day.

Asked if he believes that Willis has the support of Fulton County after her testimony, Dickens told CNN: “Yes. And certainly the City of Atlanta.”

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, the first woman to hold the post, and Charlie Bailey, the 2022 Democratic nominee for state lieutenant governor, also have attended the court proceedings.

AME Bishop Reginald Jackson, a spiritual adviser of Willis and head of a historic Black church in the Atlanta area, was also been seen in court during the hearings last month, as was Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP.

In a statement to CNN at the time, Griggs said: “I’m dedicated to safeguarding voting rights in Georgia and ensuring that the focus on this case remains on addressing the concerns raised by Georgia citizens in the indictment.”

Willis was elected in 2020 on a promise to reform her office. She inherited a backlog of more than 16,000 cases from the previous district attorney, a long-time incumbent, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Willis has also brought anti-corruption indictments against Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug and his associates. In that case, like she’s attempting to do with Trump and his allies, Willis used the racketeering statute as a tool to build a broad conspiracy case.

CORRECTION: This story and headline have been updated to reflect that the party primaries will be held on May 21. Willis and Smith will vie for the Democratic nomination.

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