DA Fani Willis faces first challenge amid Trump’s disqualification fight

By | March 10, 2024

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

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

Willis and Smith will face off in the Democratic primary on May 21. Kramer, as the Republican Party’s candidate, is expected to advance to the general election on November 5. Fulton County, a longtime Democratic stronghold and home to the city of Atlanta, will pose a tough challenge for Kramer, an outspoken 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 stealing 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 was romantically involved with a lawyer she hired to help run the Trump case, Nathan Wade .

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

When asked if his decision to run had anything to do with Willis being disqualified in the Trump racketeering case, Wise Smith told CNN: “I will reserve my comments [about her current situation] until we know more. Then, after the decision, we will decide whether we will continue with this campaign at full speed. Today was the last day to qualify. At the moment we are just connecting the dots.”

‘I have run for this office before. “I really want to make sure that the people of Fulton County have confidence in their district attorney,” 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 supported in a runoff. Smith also lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2022.

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

CNN has also contacted Kramer for comment.

While people close to Willis privately acknowledge that her future in the Georgia subversion case is certainly in jeopardy, allies of the Fulton County district attorney have attempted to rally around her in recent weeks with several 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 his own defense.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, a Democrat, sat near the front row behind the district attorney’s team on the second day of the hearings. Dickens felt “compelled to walk to the courthouse in solidarity” after seeing news 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 trying to steal an election,” Dickens said at a news conference from City Hall that day.

Asked if he believes 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 candidate for lieutenant governor of the state, also attended the court proceedings.

AME Bishop Reginald Jackson, a spiritual adviser to Willis and head of a historic black church in the Atlanta area, was also 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 am committed to protecting voting rights in Georgia and ensuring that the focus in this case remains on addressing the concerns raised by Georgian citizens in the complaint.”

Willis was elected in 2020 on a promise to reform her office. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she inherited a backlog of more than 16,000 cases from the previous long-term prosecutor.

Willis has also filed corruption charges against Grammy-winning rapper Young Thug and his associates. In that case, just as she is trying 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’s primary will be held on May 21. Willis and Smith will compete for the Democratic nomination.

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