Fani Willis, judge at center of Trump Georgia probe vie for reelection

Fani Willis, judge at center of Trump Georgia probe vie for reelection

Two key figures at the center of Donald Trump’s Georgia election probe are vying for reelection on Tuesday.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) and Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee will face voters for the first time since Trump’s election interference case thrust the two in the national spotlight.

Any surprise upset in the race could throw another hurdle in the way of the election interference case, one of several that has drawn intense public interest.

But even if Willis loses in an upset in the Tuesday primary, Republicans are unlikely to flip the office in the Democratic-leaning county.

“Fulton County’s a tough nut to crack,” said Janelle King, a conservative media personality and former deputy state director for the Georgia GOP.

Willis is running for reelection against Democrat Christian Wise Smith, a former prosecutor in the Fulton County District Attorney’s office and the founder of the National Social Justice Alliance.

Willis gained national notoriety in 2020 after ousting her former boss, former six-term Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, in the 2020 Democratic primary runoff.

Howard had been mired in multiple controversies at the time, including receiving tens of thousands of dollars originally from the city of Atlanta from a nonprofit he ran, allegations of sexual harassment and criticism over how he handled charges around the shooting of a Black man by Atlanta police.

Wise Smith also made an unsuccessful bid for Fulton County district attorney that cycle.

Willis became a household name nationally in 2021 when she launched a probe into Trump and other Republicans over efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. Just months before, The Washington Post had reported that Trump had called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger (R) to change the election results in the state to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in the Peach State.

A Fulton County grand jury indicted Trump and allies of his on state racketeering charges, making false statements and solicitation of violation of oath, among other crimes.

Yet revelations that Willis had a relationship with a fellow prosecutor, Nathan Wade — prompted by one of the co-defendants in the Trump case — roiled the case, prompting McAfee, who’s overseeing the election probe case, to rule that Wade needed to remove himself from the case. Willis’s campaign declined to comment to The Hill for this story.

Wise Smith is launching a longshot bid to oust Willis. He told The Hill in an interview that if he won, his priorities would include reallocating resources back toward violent crimes and other serious offenses, “dismantling the school-to-prison pipelines” and not going after marijuana convictions.

Asked about her handling of the Georgia election interference case, Wise Smith argued that “Willis should resign,” saying he was concerned she could be removed from the probe and her role as Fulton County district attorney.

“That case continues to be in grave jeopardy with her as district attorney,” he said.

She’s also gained her fair share of Republican critics, most prominently Trump himself. Critics believe her case against Trump and his allies is too far-reaching and criticize her for not focusing on pertinent issues in the county like crime.

Republican strategist Brian Robinson suggested Willis had multiple vulnerabilities that her Democratic challenger could have taken advantage of.

“When all this got started, we were still suffering from that post-COVID crime wave and Fulton had its hands full already without taking on what should be a federal case,” he said. “There are a lot of negatives that you could have gone after her on but that has not materialized.”

Despite the controversy, however, Democrats and Republicans alike expect Willis to sail through her primary.

“I personally admire her,” said state Rep. Shea Roberts (D), whose seat includes portions of the DeKalb and Fulton counties. “I appreciate her because I don’t think there are a lot of folks who would withstand all of the distractions that Trump has tried to bring to this case, the death threats. She does it with grace and continues to do her job.”

Assuming Willis prevails in her Democratic primary, she’s expected to take on Republican Courtney Kramer, a former legal intern during the Trump administration who also worked as a litigation consultant to the Trump campaign following the 2020 election.

Kramer has accused Willis of politically persecuting Republicans in the state and criticized Willis’s job as the chief prosecutor for Fulton County.

“I feel like we don’t have someone advocating for everybody collectively,” Kramer told The Hill.

“Fani Willis is advocating for herself and fighting for herself and maybe her own political party, sure, but that’s not what the job is,” she added.

The Republican attorney has said that given her past work with some of the defendants in the Georgia probe, she’d recuse herself from the case if she won in November.

Given Fulton County’s heavily Democratic leanings, which went for Biden by 46 points in 2020, it’ll be an uphill battle for Kramer.

McAfee is also running against one challenger, Robert Patillo II, an attorney and executive director for of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s Peachtree Street Project. Patillo considers himself a “conservative Democrat” who believes he has more experience than McAfee, who’s in his mid-thirties, citing his time as a civil rights lawyer.

He’s also suggested that the case has gone off the rails, which Patillo attributes in part to McAfee’s inexperience.

McAfee campaign consultant Fredrick Hicks declined to comment to The Hill in an email, noting “the ongoing nature of the cases before Judge McAfee and in the higher court,” but noted that “we are very optimistic about the outcome of [the] election and look forward to a full four year term.”

McAfee is also widely expected to win in his nonpartisan race on Tuesday and has earned support from both parties over his handling of the Trump case, particularly his decision to keep Willis on the case while ordering Wade to leave it.

Some of those endorsements include Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and former Gov. Roy Barnes (D).

“I don’t think his opponent has mounted a credible challenge, and I think that he threaded the needle in that ruling in a way that is not going to threaten him,” Democratic strategist Amy Morton said regarding his Willis-Wade decision.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.