© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Democrats Would Rather Not Talk About Fani Willis

After Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis was accused of misusing funds, Democrats are mostly staying quiet.

Fani Willis
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is facing allegations of improper behavior as she prosecutes former President Donald Trump. Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

Democrats in Washington and Georgia are sidestepping allegations that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis mishandled funds and hired a romantic partner — accusations that threaten to distract from or upend a key case against Donald Trump.

Few Democrats are so far willing to publicly defend her; most are staying quiet, at least until she does more to defend herself.

Willis, who is leading the prosecution of the former president and others for allegedly interfering in Georgia’s election results, has been accused by one of Trump’s co-defendants, Michael Roman, of being romantically involved with a special prosecutor on the case, Nathan Wade. The Jan. 8 filing, which did not contain specific evidence, accused the pair of profiting off the case and misusing taxpayer funds. (Willis has not denied allegations of a relationship with Wade and has given only limited comments on the matter.)

Some Georgia Democrats gave a tepid defense of Willis, telling NOTUS they want to learn more before they pass judgment and noting that the source of the accusations has a clear intention of destroying the case.

“It feels petty,” said LeWanna Heard-Tucker, chair of the Fulton County Democrats. “And that would be a rookie move on her part, so it doesn’t seem right. So, waiting on more details and facts.”

“They’re allegations,” said Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop. “And when you consider the source — I don’t know that the source of those allegations is one that can throw rocks who lives in a glass house.”

Mostly, though, Democrats have avoided speaking about the matter entirely.

“I don’t have any comment,” Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock told NOTUS when asked about his reaction to the accusations, a sentiment echoed by fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff when asked if he had a comment in support of Willis.

Leaders of the Georgia Democratic Party did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the matter.

X posts from Georgia Democrats, the state party’s official account, since Jan. 8 have focused on state legislative battles over funding and expanded Medicaid, with no posts on the day the allegations surfaced. Party emails, dating to Jan. 11, make no mention of the matter, instead focusing on fundraising for congressional races in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Montana, and Virginia.

When asked about the lack of Democratic response to the allegations, Republican Rep. Buddy Carter told NOTUS, “If I was a Democrat, I’d be silent too. It certainly doesn’t look good at this point.”

The wait-and-see approach could soon hit its limits. Conservative members initiated an action against the Fulton DA’s office in the days immediately following the allegations. Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene submitted on Jan. 10 a request for a criminal investigation to Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr, both Republicans. House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan sent an inquiry to Wade two days later concerning the motivations of the election case against Trump and others and a potential misuse of federal funds.

Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the RICO case against Trump, ordered a Feb. 15 hearing to consider Roman’s motion against Willis. She must respond to the allegations in writing by Feb. 2.

“I think all Georgia political observers are awaiting DA Willis’ response to Mr. Roman’s motion with great interest,” Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a story published Tuesday.

On Thursday, in a separate case, Willis’ lawyers filed an accusation that Wade’s estranged wife, Jocelyn Wade, was attempting to obstruct justice. The filing did not deny a romantic relationship.

But Willis offered a more oblique defense on Sunday during a service at Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta, where she had been invited to speak for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Willis stood in the pulpit and addressed her accusers in a prayer-styled speech.

“Dear God, I do not want to be like those that attack me,” said Willis. “I never want to be a Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has never met me but has allowed her spirit to be filled with hate.”

Though she did not name Wade or comment on the veracity of her relationship with him, she called the fervor surrounding his hiring as a special prosecutor in the Trump case “nonsense.”

“God, wasn’t it them who attacked this lawyer of impeccable credentials?” Willis said.

The majority of her speech concerned her faith. Willis repeatedly called herself a flawed spiritual “child” who is stubborn and imperfect.

“You cannot expect Black women to be perfect and save the world,” Willis told the congregation. “The Lord is completing us; we are not perfect. We need your prayers. We need to be allowed to stumble. We need grace.”

When asked if Democrats should be publicly defending Willis, former District 6 vice chair Phil Lunney told NOTUS, “I would just let her handle it at this point.”

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.