George Senate Republicans are vying to create a special panel to investigate misconduct allegations against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
State Sen. Greg Dolezal, a Republican representing Cumming, introduced legislation Monday to establish the Senate Special Committee on Investigations in response to a series of public reports, court filings and allegations of misconduct involving Willis, whose office is prosecuting the 2020 election interference case against former President Trump and 18 of his allies.
Willis was accused in a motion filed earlier this month by attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who represents former Trump campaign staffer and onetime White House aide Michael Roman, of engaging in an inappropriate romantic relationship with Fulton County special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, an outside attorney who Willis hired for the Trump case.
“Today, in response to a wave of concerning reports and court filings regarding District Attorney Fani Willis of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, I am calling for the establishment of the Senate Special Committee on Investigations. The multitude of accusations surrounding Ms. Willis, spanning from allegations of prosecutorial misconduct to questions about the use of public funds and accusations of an unprofessional relationship, underscores the urgency for a thorough and impartial examination,” Dolezal, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and chief deputy whip, said in a statement. “We owe it to the public to ensure transparency, accountability and the preservation of the integrity of our justice system.”
The proposed legislation, which states, “such relationship, if proven to exist, would constitute a clear conflict of interest and a fraud upon the taxpayers of Fulton County and the State of Georgia,” seeks to establish the Senate Special Committee on Investigations, comprising nine members, with three representatives from the minority party. The committee will be assigned to conduct a legislative investigation and will have the power to administer oaths and to call any party to testify under oath at such investigations, among other responsibilities.
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Dolezal’s proposal suggests that legal or budgetary changes could follow any inquiry.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade are accused of engaging in an inappropriate romantic relationship. (Getty Images)
The resolution would have to win approval in the Republican-majority state Senate before any panel could be appointed.
Also on Monday, the Georgia House of Representatives’ Judiciary Non-Civil Committee advanced a bill that would revive a new state commission to discipline and remove state prosecutors – this time removing the requirement of the state Supreme Court’s oversight of the commission’s rules. State lawmakers had created the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission last year to sanction prosecutors, namely accusing Willis of focusing too heavily on the Trump investigation instead of moving criminal cases through initial hearings that could ease overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail. The initial law hit a roadblock in the state Supreme Court over constitutionality concerns.
Merchant alleges that Willis’ office paid Wade large sums and that Willis improperly benefited when Wade then paid for the two of them to go on vacations. A filing last week by Wade’s wife, Joycelyn Wade, in their divorce case includes credit card records that show that Wade bought plane tickets for Willis to travel with him to Miami, San Francisco and Aruba.
Willis, in another filing in the divorce case, has accused Wade’s wife of attempting to obstruct the district attorney’s prosecution of Trump and his allies.
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Willis was expected to give a deposition Tuesday in the divorce case, but during a hearing Monday, Cobb County, Georgia, Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson delayed a decision on whether the district attorney will be required to do so until the court first hears from Nathan Wade during an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Jan. 31. Thompson notably cut off Willis’ attorney during the hearing when the lawyer tried to argue the district attorney was too busy with the Trump case to be deposed in the Wade divorce proceedings.
“We have questions. I want to know how he’s been spending his money. I have a reason to believe he’s spending it on another woman. That’s my client’s money. And I want to ask questions about that. She’s trying to hide under the shield of her position improperly,” Andrea Hastings, the attorney for Joycelyn Wade, said during the hearing.
Meanwhile, Merchant’s motion asks Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to remove Willis and Wade and their offices from any further prosecution of the Trump case.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a worship service at the Big Bethel AME Church, where she was invited as a guest speaker on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Atlanta. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
McAfee has the power to do that. In fact, another judge, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, took that step in July 2022 when he was presiding over the special grand jury investigation that preceded the indictment in the election case. Then-Sen. Burt Jones, one of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate stating that Trump had won the election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors, had been told he was a target in the election case.
Jones argued that Willis had a conflict of interest because she had hosted a fundraiser for his Democratic opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race. McBurney ruled in Jones’ favor, writing that the situation had gone beyond bad optics and had created “a plain – and actual and untenable – conflict.” He prohibited Willis and her office from prosecuting Jones in the case.
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If McAfee decides to take similar action and to remove Willis and her office from the election case, it would be up to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to find another prosecutor to take the case. That person could continue on the track that Willis has taken, could choose to pursue only some charges or could dismiss the case altogether.
McAfee said he expects to set a hearing on the motion in February.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.