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Georgia judge will consider removing prosecutor from election interference case


Today in Georgia, a judge will determine whether a Fulton County district attorney should be disqualified from prosecuting the state's election interference case against former President Donald Trump and 14 others. Now, this comes after one of the defendants accused DA Fani Willis of an improper relationship with a special prosecutor. I spoke earlier with WABE's Sam Gringlas about the allegations against her.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: So this case was trudging along toward trial when one of the defendants filed a very serious motion. Michael Roman, who worked for the Trump campaign and is facing seven felony charges, accused Willis of benefiting from his prosecution due to her personal relationship with prosecutor Nathan Wade. Roman argued that the longer his case dragged on, the more money Wade raked in to spend on vacations with Willis. More than half of the co-defendants are now moving to disqualify Willis, including Trump. Eventually, prosecutors acknowledged the relationship but deny any conflict of interest. And to be clear, A, these misconduct claims have nothing to do with the efforts by Trump and others to overturn the election here.

MARTÍNEZ: Right. They are absolutely separate. So what should we expect from today's hearing? What's going to happen?

GRINGLAS: Well, since prosecutors responded to these claims, there have been a flurry of motions with each side accusing the other of misrepresenting the facts at hand. It will be up to Fulton Superior Judge Scott McAfee to rule. He said this week it remains to be proven whether Willis or Wade had a financial interest in the outcome of the case.


SCOTT MCAFEE: Because I think it's possible that the facts alleged by the defendant could result in disqualification, I think an evidentiary hearing must occur.

GRINGLAS: McAfee has, for now, declined to quash subpoenas for Willis, Wade and others, and if they are forced to testify, it could be quite dramatic and embarrassing as lawyers argue over things like what it means to cohabitate.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there a way to know, kind of decide or figure out what is exactly disqualifying conflict of interest and then what isn't?

GRINGLAS: I put this question to Clark Cunningham, a legal ethics professor at Georgia State University.

CLARK CUNNINGHAM: If Judge McAfee finds that District Attorney Willis has a personal interest or stake in the prosecution of these defendants, he must disqualify her and the entire office without the defendants' having to make any showing that they have been directly prejudiced by that personal interest.

GRINGLAS: But there is some disagreement among legal experts over exactly what standard the judge will use to weigh disqualification. Willis has already been disqualified from prosecuting one potential target of the election case. A different judge barred her from pursuing Burt Jones, one of Georgia's so-called fake electors, after Willis hosted a fundraiser for his political opponent in the race for lieutenant governor.

MARTÍNEZ: But as you said, these misconduct claims have nothing to do with the efforts by Donald Trump and others to overturn the election in Georgia. But could that case all of a sudden go away?

GRINGLAS: If Willis is disqualified, the whole Fulton DA's office would be taken off the case, too. Then a state prosecutor's council has to appoint a special prosecutor. But for context, no prosecutor has been appointed for the Burt Jones probe 18 months later. So the outcome could affect whether the Georgia election case goes to trial this year at all. Professor Cunningham told me what Judge McAfee does may change American history.

MARTÍNEZ: That's WABE politics reporter Sam Gringlas. Sam, thanks.

GRINGLAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.