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Takeaways from the scathing ruling that allows DA Fani Willis to remain on the Trump election subversion case – CNN


Judge Scott McAfee is allowing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to continue on the election subversion case against Donald Trump – but she was forced to lose special prosecutor Nathan Wade after an embarrassing two months that put Willis and Wade on trial themselves over their romantic relationship.

It’s a technical legal win for Willis since she may continue, along with her full office, prosecuting Trump and 14 others.

But McAfee’s 23-page opinion was a scathing rebuke of the district attorney’s actions, and it remains unclear if Trump will face trial before November on his actions after the 2020 presidential election.

McAfee ruled that either Wade or Willis would have to leave the case, as an “odor of mendacity remains” over the circumstances of their relationship. Wade sent his letter of resignation just hours later, saying he was resigning “in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public, and to move this case forward as quickly as possible.”

Here are takeaways from Friday’s ruling:

Willis survives, but the DA and her case are wounded

While Willis survived the disqualification challenge, the detour over her relationship with Wade has left a stain on her case, both in court – where potential jurors are likely to be familiar with the episode – and the broader public, which will vote on whether to return Trump to the White House in November.

McAfee was highly critical of Willis and Wade’s relationship, describing it as being the result of “bad choices.”

Yet, “Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices – even repeatedly,” he wrote.

Their relationship was thrown into the center of the case in January, when co-defendant Mike Roman filed a motion to disqualify Willis over allegations of an “improper” relationship.

Over the course of several hearings, McAfee heard testimony about their relationship and the payments Wade made on trips they took together, which the defendants alleged showed the district attorney benefited financially from their relationship, but Willis responded that she had reimbursed Wade in cash.

Fani Willis can continue to prosecute the 2020 election interference case if special prosecutor Nathan Wade is removed. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig joins News Central to discuss. ” data-duration=”02:15″ data-source-html=” – Source:
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‘This thing smells’: CNN breaks down judge’s wording in Fani Willis ruling


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Both Willis and Wade took the stand – and Willis’ appearance came in an extraordinary moment when she went to the courtroom and said she was eager to testify, delivering an indignant response to the lawyers bringing the allegations against her.

In his ruling Friday, the judge described Willis’ fiery testimony as “unprofessional.”

“This finding is by no means an indication that the Court condones this tremendous lapse in judgment or the unprofessional manner of the District Attorney’s testimony during the evidentiary hearing,” the judge wrote.

Friday’s ruling still represents a partial victory for the former president in attempt to delay his four criminal trials and turn the tables on the prosecutors who have indicted him.

Trump’s attorneys have successfully employed numerous efforts to delay all four of the criminal trials that could sideline the former president from the campaign trail this year.

Trump’s election subversion case is in Washington on hold while the Supreme Court hears arguments in April over the former president’s immunity claims. In Florida’s classified documents case, the Trump-appointed judge is expected to set a new trial date in the coming days, after holding a hearing to discuss timing two weeks ago.

And in New York, where Trump’s first criminal trial was poised to begin in less than two weeks, a judge on Friday delayed the trial until at least mid-April after tens of thousands of new pages of evidence had been turned over by the US attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Delay isn’t the only opportunity for Trump’s defense. His team has also found ways to shift the focus from Trump’s dozens of criminal charges to undermining the prosecutors who have charged him and sowing distrust in the legal system itself.

“A perceived conflict in the reasonable eyes of the public threatens confidence in the legal system itself,” McAfee wrote Friday. “When this danger goes uncorrected, it undermines the legitimacy and moral force of our already weakest branch of government.”

McAfee said that questions remained about the timing of the relationship between Wade and Willis – which the defendants alleged began before Wade’s hiring in 2021 – and the payments that Wade made when the pair took trips together.

But he determined there wasn’t conclusive proof of the allegations against them.

“Reasonable questions about whether the District Attorney and her hand-selected lead SADA testified untruthfully about the timing of their relationship further underpin the finding of an appearance of impropriety and the need to make proportional efforts to cure it,” McAfee wrote.

But McAfee added: “Ultimately, dismissal of the indictment is not the appropriate remedy to adequately dissipate the financial cloud of impropriety and potential untruthfulness found here.”

McAfee wrote a key factor was that Willis’ testimony and the evidence demonstrated any financial gain from Wade “was not a motivating factor on the part of the District Attorney to indict and prosecute this case.”

McAfee wrote that while Willis kept no records of payments she says she made to Wade in reimbursements for vacation travel they took together, her claim that she paid him back in cash “was not so incredible as to be inherently unbelievable.”

“The Defendants have not presented sufficient evidence indicating that the expenses were not ‘roughly divided evenly,’” the judge wrote.

McAfee was clear in his ruling Friday that if Wade was kept on the case, the perception of “compromising influences” in the case against Trump and others would continue.

While the judge gave Willis the option to remove herself or Wade from the case, there’s really no choice: If Willis had chosen to take her office off the case instead, it would be transferred to Georgia’s Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council for reassignment – a move that could fatally derail the complicated racketeering case depending on who took over.

“An outsider could reasonably think that the District Attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences. As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist,” McAfee wrote.

The judge chided Wade for not disclosing his relationship with Willis in his divorce proceedings, suggesting that it creates the public perception that he could continue hiding a financial or romantic relationship with Willis, even though they said their relationship ended last year.

“Wade’s patently unpersuasive explanation for the inaccurate interrogatories he submitted in his pending divorce indicates a willingness on his part to wrongly conceal his relationship with the District Attorney,” McAfee wrote. “As the case moves forward, reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit to the District Attorney, or even whether the romantic relationship has resumed.”

In his resignation letter to Willis on Friday, Wade said he was proud of the work of their team.

“The furtherance of the rule of law and democracy is and has always been the North Star of our combined efforts in the prosecution of those who are alleged to have attempted to overthrow the results of Georgia’s 2020 Presidential Election,” he said.

Accepting Wade’s resignation, Willis thanked her former special prosecutor for his work.

“I will always remember – and will remind everyone – that you were brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation and prosecution of the allegations that the defendants in this case engaged in a conspiracy to overturn Georgia’s 2020 Presidential Election,” Willis wrote.

“I compliment you for the professionalism and dignity you have shown over the last 865 days, as you have endured threats against you and your family, as well as unjustified attacks in the media and in court on your reputation as a lawyer,” she added.”

In his repeated rebukes of the district attorney’s actions, McAfee wrote Friday that Willis’ comments at an Atlanta-area church in January about the case were “legally improper.”

He also warned of the potential for a future gag order against Willis.

During the speech earlier this year, Willis defended Wade, suggesting he was being targeted because he was a “Black man.”

The January speech was one of the episodes cited by the defendants in their bid to disqualify Willis, claiming she was publicly going after Trump and his co-defendants and could prejudice the case.

Willis said in court filings afterward that she was not referring to criticism from the defendants in her election subversion case, including Trump, when she made those comments.

McAfee said the comments were far enough removed from a jury trial that it would not “establish a permanent taint of the jury pool” and said, “The Court cannot find that this speech crossed the line to the point where the Defendants have been denied the opportunity for a fundamentally fair trial or that it requires the District Attorney’s disqualification.”

“But it was still legally improper,” McAfee wrote in his ruling Friday. “Providing this type of public comment creates dangerous waters for the District Attorney to wade further into.”

On the potential for a gag order, the judge added that “the time may well have arrived for an order preventing the State from mentioning the case in any public forum to prevent prejudicial publicity, but that is not the motion presently before the Court.”

CNN’s Devan Cole, Jason Morris and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional developments.