Fani Willis
A judge decided that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis could remain on the case against Donald Trump only if her aide withdrew. Alex Slitz/AP

Fani Willis Will Stay On the Trump Case. Democrats Wonder at What Cost.

“We need this trial over and Trump as a non-option.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will remain on the case against Donald Trump, but some Democrats aren’t celebrating.

They fear that Friday’s order will only extend the case — and Trump’s ability to rail against Willis publicly — and the former president won’t be held accountable before the election.

“We need this trial over and Trump as a non-option,” Le’Wanna Heard-Tucker, chair of the Fulton County’s Democratic Party, told NOTUS.

“I don’t think he’ll be held accountable if he wins,” said John Jackson, former Democratic chair of DeKalb County. “It’s best it happens before the election.”

Judge Scott McAfee ordered that Willis could remain on the case so long as Nathan Wade, her former romantic partner, exited as special prosecutor. Wade offered his resignation hours after the order, which Willis accepted. But the possibility remains that the defendants appeal McAfee’s decision, which could delay the case for months.

“We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place,” Steve Sadow, President Trump’s lead defense counsel, said in a statement.

There’s no timeline for when the case would move forward in the event of an appeal, though it’s possible Willis will ask that the case be set for trial as soon as feasible until an appeal is requested. Democrats would welcome the urgency, wishing for preelection developments that could sway the race toward President Joe Biden, particularly as other cases against Trump drag on. Though Trump is leading Biden in most national polls, numbers show a conviction would sway a swath of voters away from the former president.

“Anything that happens between July and November will affect the election,” a state Democratic strategist told NOTUS. “We need to know if Trump committed crimes when he tried to find a way to reverse the outcome of the election for president of the U.S. in Georgia.”

Not all Democrats are convinced the case will have a major impact on the race.

“I’ve never particularly hung my hat on this affecting the election one way or the other,” said Andrew Heaton, a former Raphael Warnock campaign aide. “There’s too much work to be done, it’s a waste of energy and time to try and count on this case for anything in regards to the election. We have to proceed as if nothing changes.”

Trump and his allies wanted Willis to be thrown off the case or, ultimately, for it to be tossed altogether. Though disappointed by the verdict, Republicans hope a potential appeal could delay the case beyond the presidential election.

“That would be a good thing for all the defendants,” said Jared Craig, legal counsel for Veterans for America First. “The shelf life of their plan expires at that point.”

The defense would need to receive a certificate of immediate review from McAfee to appeal the decision before the trial. According to reports, if he does not grant immediate review, a potential appeal would occur after the trial.

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Though McAfee provided a path forward for Willis to continue the case, he had harsh words for the embattled prosecutors, calling their actions a “tremendous lapse in judgment” and saying “an odor of mendacity remains” around the timeline of their relationship.

McAfee further criticized Willis in his order for her conduct on the witness stand and for delivering a speech at Big Bethel AME Church when she lashed out at her accusers for alleging a relationship between her and Wade.

As the case continues, Democrats hope to see Willis reassert control of what has been a tumbling case and bring it to an urgent end, while Republicans hope further delays lead to a plodding conclusion.

“They will definitely use it as talking points no matter what because they have to,” Heard-Tucker said. “But Democrats need to stay focused on our plan and not get distracted. We won’t celebrate and take our foot off the gas until the case is over.”

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