Prosecutor barred from bringing criminal charges against Trump ally

ATLANTA — Embarrassing blow for prosecutor investigating former president’s election interference Donald J. Trump and his allies, an At...


ATLANTA — Embarrassing blow for prosecutor investigating former president’s election interference Donald J. Trump and his allies, an Atlanta judge disqualified Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis from pursuing a criminal case against a Georgia state official, citing a conflict of interest.

Ms. Willis had recently informed State Senator Burt Jones, Georgia’s Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, that he could be charged. But on Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert CI McBurney disqualified her from pursuing a case against Mr Jones because she headlined a fundraiser in June for his Democratic rival in the race.

Mr. Jones was one of 16 pro-Trump “substitute voters” in Georgia who were sworn in on the same day as the state’s legitimate presidential voters, who voted for Joseph R. Biden Jr. Ms. Willis’ office had recently warned them, along with another state senator and the leader of the Georgia Republican Party, that they could face charges in the case.

Monday’s ruling does not affect any other part of the sprawling investigation Ms. Willis’ office is carrying out with a special grand jury. Even so, it underscores the complicated political terrain facing Ms. Willis, a first-term Democrat.

“She granted the imprimatur of her office to Senator Jones’ adversary,” Justice McBurney wrote in his decision, adding that “this scenario creates a conflict that is clear – and real and untenable.” Any decision the district attorney makes about Senator Jones in the grand jury investigation is necessarily infected with it.

The decision does not mean that Mr. Jones cannot be investigated, only that Ms. Willis cannot be the only one to do so.

The judge said it would be up to state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, to select another district attorney who could assess whether any potential charges should be brought against Mr. Jones, and if so, what would be -they. But Mr. Carr’s office said that under a new law, the selection of a prosecutor will actually be made by the Georgia Board of Prosecutors, a group that sets policies and rules for prosecutors in district throughout the state.

Ms. Willis’ lawyer had argued that the fundraiser she headlined for Charlie Bailey, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, came in a runoff between two Democratic candidates, and that a post for the event made it clear that it was tied to the second round. , not the general election contest against Mr. Jones.

The judge acknowledged that these facts were “rightly” pointed out, but said that what was “more relevant – and detrimental – to the integrity of the grand jury’s investigation is that the dice were already thrown across the political divide”. and that whoever wins the second round “would face Senator Jones”.

The decision came days after Judge McBurney critical Ms Willis at a hearing last week for her participation in the fundraiser, calling it a ‘what do you think moment’. The judge also expressed concern that the district attorney, as “legal counsel to the grand jury,” was “on the national media almost every night talking about this investigation.”

As the House Select Committee in Washington investigates the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol showcased how Mr. Trump and his allies sought to overturn election results in several crucial states, it is Ms. Willis’ investigation that puts Mr. Trump and his allies in the most immediate legal peril.

The judge’s decision regarding Mr Jones is likely to have limited implications for Ms Willis’ wider investigation, since the decision concerns only one of the 16 suspected pro-Trump voters.

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office was unavailable for comment Monday.

The Georgia investigation is gaining more attention as it encompasses more of Mr. Trump’s allies and advisers. Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was ordered by a judge to testify on August 9. Lawyers for Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are working to compel him to testify, as are the lawyers. for Representative Jody Hice of Georgia, a staunch Trump ally who led efforts in the House in January 2021 to stop the certification of electoral votes.

Ms Willis is also seeking to compel testimony from John Eastman, an architect of the legal strategy designed to keep Mr Trump in power, as well as other lawyers – Kenneth Chesebro, Jacki Pick Deason, Jenna Ellis and Cleta Mitchell – who have played an important roles in the effort.

Eleven of the other alleged pro-Trump voters in Georgia asked Judge McBurney to bar Ms Willis from investigating them as well, but the judge denied their request, saying none of them had shown that the Ms. Willis’ office was “tainted by a conflict of interest” in their case. The judge also denied their efforts to quash the subpoenas they had received.

The so-called pro-Trump voters are scheduled to appear later this week before the special grand jury, which is meeting behind closed doors at a downtown Atlanta courthouse.

The fact that Mr Jones could be charged has injected a dose of drama into the lieutenant governor’s race in Georgia, one of many races that are being closely watched nationwide in the southern battleground state. . Mr Bailey, a lawyer who previously worked with Ms Willis in the district attorney’s office, accused Mr Jones of being part of a ‘failed attempt to overthrow the US government’.

Mr Jones said in a statement on Monday that the judge’s decision was a “huge victory” for him and accused Mr Bailey of waging a “smear campaign”.

Sean Keenan contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Prosecutor barred from bringing criminal charges against Trump ally
Prosecutor barred from bringing criminal charges against Trump ally
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