Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is under pressure over conflict-of-interest allegations. Alyssa Pointer/AP

For Some Georgia Democrats, the Fani Willis Relationship Damage Has Already Been Done

The allegations against the Georgia prosecutor have “cast a shadow” over the sprawling case against Trump and his codefendants.

Georgia Democrats say they’re not worried about whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will be taken off her case against former President Donald Trump. But they are worried that no matter what happens in the court of law, the damage has already been done in the court of public opinion.

Defense lawyers in the sprawling case against Trump and 14 others stemming from the 2020 election have seized on Willis’ romantic relationship with attorney Nathan Wade, who Willis hired to help the prosecution. Willis and Wade both say their relationship, which they testified is now over, began after he was hired. But the defense lawyers’ case centers around the testimony of Robin Yeartie, a former friend of Willis’, who testified on Thursday that the relationship began years earlier. Willis, testifying after Yeartie, firmly denied that account.

“One witness saying the relationship began before 2022 doesn’t seem like enough to me,” said Marc Silverman, a Georgia Democratic pollster and former practicing attorney.

Judge Scott McAfee is now weighing whether the existence and details of the relationship constitute enough of a conflict of interest that Willis should be removed from the case, moving the prosecution to a new lawyer and likely delaying the start of the trial.

But no matter how the judge rules, the dispute has shifted the focus toward Willis and away from Trump. Trump has already pounced on the message to try to discredit the prosecution altogether, posting about the ongoing testimony repeatedly on Truth Social as evidence that the entire case against him is a “scam.”

Democrats worry that the focus on Willis may leave some to question who is the one on trial.

“Especially in the news, for the American people to be getting mixed messages about who’s getting examined and what’s getting examined,” one staffer for a Georgia House Democrat told NOTUS. “I do think it’s pretty distracting or runs the risk of being distracting, because it’s important that the news and the courts are trying to get folks the truth.”

Several staffers for Georgia Democrats told NOTUS the same message: They aren’t worried about whether or not Willis is at fault, rather, they’re worried about how the distraction affects the focus of a case seen as the most serious in the legal battle against the former president.

“I don’t think it would necessarily unravel it, but I do think that it will cast a shadow that will allow his supporters and his defense to call into question the process, and I think it could do damage to the case,” a Georgia Democratic political operative said.

“My concern is really not so much about whether or not she should be disqualified, but more about the public perception and the narrative that’s being driven.”

That said, opinions on Democrats around Willis are complicated.

“I know Fani personally,” said a former Democratic county chair who has known Willis since before she was elected district attorney. “And it troubles me she’d be this stupid. I know she’s smarter than this. But sometimes power makes folks arrogant and ignorant.”

“Nobody said it wasn’t stupid, because it was kind of stupid what she did, but love is blind, I guess,” said Conolus Scott, Georgia’s District 10 Democratic chair.

Scott said that what Trump has done, particularly the allegations of sexual assault against writer E. Jean Carroll and hush money to adult-film actor Stormy Daniels, are “10 times worse than what [Willis] did, it’s just a ploy.”

But despite what Scott saw as a significant difference in the accusations, he believed the public’s opinion is already solidified, no matter what the judge decides.

“It all depends on what side of the fence you’re on,” Scott said.

Few national Democrats are speaking publicly about Willis as the trial is ongoing. Both Georgia senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, have been silent on whether or not they support Willis. Ahead of the start of trial, both told NOTUS they had no comment on Willis. As of Friday, neither senator’s office responded to requests for comment.

Ben T.N. Mause and Katherine Swartz are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute Fellows.