Who is Fani Willis, the DA leading the Trump probe in Georgia?

Fani Willis, the district attorney in Georgia’s Fulton County, where former President Donald Trump is under investigation for allegedly attempting to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election result, said last week that she will reveal her charging decisions in the matter by Sept. 1. “The work is accomplished,” she told NBC affiliate WXIA. “We’ve been working for two-and-a-half years. We’re ready to go.”

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That work has not been without speed bumps. In early July, Trump’s team attempted to disqualify Willis from the case and throw out evidence collected by a special grand jury last year, alleging that allowing the investigation to proceed violates the former president’s constitutional rights. The DA was also recently the subject of at least one racist threat in which she was called the N-word and a “Jim Crow Democrat whore” and has since warned Fulton County commissioners to stay “alert” and “safe” ahead of the potential indictments. “Some people may not be happy with the decisions that I’m making,” she added in her comments to WXIA. “And sometimes, when people are unhappy, they act in a way that could create harm.”

At 51, Willis is the first Black woman to lead the Fulton Country DA’s office, and in her almost 20 years as a prosecutor, she has “led more than 100 jury trials and handled hundreds of murder cases,” per The New York Times. That dogged work ethic has hurt her family life, she told The Wall Street Journal, but her biggest and most career-defining case could be just getting started.

Growing up

As a kid, Willis spent lots of time in the courthouse with her father, “a former Black Panther and criminal defense lawyer who practiced in the Washington, D.C., area,” reported the Times. She attended Howard University in the district and Emory Law School in Atlanta, where she eventually settled and began work in the prosecutor’s office. Soon, she was “specializing in serious, complex crimes,” including murders, though her “biggest case” at the time involved “helping lead the team that won multiple convictions in a notorious cheating scandal involving Atlanta Public Schools teachers and staff,” per the Journal. 

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Willis is known for her work handing down Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) indictments to popular rappers, like Gunna and Young Thug, as well as alleged members of the Bloods and Drug Rich gangs. In the Drug Rich case, she used popular rap lyrics as evidence despite criticism that such an approach violated the First Amendment. “I have some legal advice,” she said at the time. “Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used or at least get out of my county.” The Atlanta schools cheating controversy was also a RICO case.

After leaving the DA’s office in 2018, Willis ran for a local judgeship (she lost), then later for district attorney. She was victorious, defeating her former boss, who was at the time embroiled in a financial misconduct and harassment scandal. 

Tackling Trump

On the night of Jan. 3, 2021, The Washington Post published the transcript of a Jan. 2 call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, during which Trump urged Raffensberger to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss in the Biden-won state. Willis had recently assumed office as Fulton Country district attorney but immediately launched an investigation into the former president, with the “phone call serving as a central damning piece of evidence against him,” per The Independent.

About a year into the probe, Willis called a special grand jury to “compel testimony from witnesses who otherwise might not be willing to talk to her team,” The Associated Press explained. That panel was convened in May 2022 and later released in January, after issuing subpoenas, hearing from several witnesses and drafting a report with recommendations for the DA. In July, a Georgia judge seated two other grand juries that will now likely decide whether to bring formal election interference charges against Trump, who continues to maintain his innocence.

“The young, ambitious, Radical Left Democrat ‘Prosecutor’ from Georgia, who is presiding over one of the most Crime Ridden and Corrupt places in the USA, Fulton County, has put together a Grand Jury to investigate an absolutely ‘PERFECT’ phone call to the Secretary of State,” he wrote on Truth Social last May.

As part of her investigation, several fake electors — “people who signed a certificate falsely declaring that Trump won Georgia in the 2020 election and that they were the state’s official electors,” per NBC News — have also signed immunity deals with Willis’ office.

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