Fulton Officials Say Fani Willis Had Free Rein to Prosecute Donald Trump

Fulton Officials Say Fani Willis Had Free Rein to Prosecute Donald Trump

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis was free to hire special prosecutors to pursue the election interference case against former President Donald Trump and pay them whatever she thought was necessary, two high-ranking county officials testified Friday.

“That’s solely the prerogative of the district attorney,” Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts told members of a state Senate committee formed to investigate allegations of misconduct and misuse of public funds lodged against Willis in her handling of the Trump prosecution. “We don’t get into that sort of detail.”

The Senate Special Committee on Investigations was formed in January after one of Trump’s co-defendants filed a motion accusing Willis of being involved in a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she hired to pursue the investigation. Willis and Wade acknowledged the relationship but argued it did not constitute grounds for her to be dismissed from handling the case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled last month that Willis could remain but only if Wade resigned. He did so a few hours later and was replaced as head of the investigation by Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

At Friday’s hearing, Fulton County Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore testified that the county commission reviews and votes on the district attorney’s annual general fund budget request. Willis received $36.6 million from the general fund for the current fiscal year, she said.

An additional bucket of funds has come the federal government in the form of pandemic relief, Whitmore said.

Willis did not seek prior approval from the commission before using those funds to hire Wade and two other special prosecutors to take on the election interference case.

“The board of commissioners has no oversight over the district attorney,” Whitmore said.

After hearing that testimony, Sen. Bill Cowsert, the committee’s chairman, cited a state law that requires district attorneys seeking to hire independent contractors to receive prior approval from their county commission.

“This sounds to me like the Wild West, very little control for Fulton County,” said Cowsert, R-Athens.

But Fulton County Attorney Soo Joo said the state law applies only to assistant district attorneys, and it’s unclear either in case law or court rulings whether it should also pertain to special prosecutors.

Cowsert said one of the Senate committee’s purposes is to determine whether there’s a need to pass new laws or amend existing laws to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system. He said requiring district attorneys to submit for prior approval requests to hire special prosecutors is an issue lawmakers may address.

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