"Smell of desperation": Georgia GOP accused of "abuse of power" for trying to punish Fani Willis

Senate GOP leader touts new law that allows prosecutors to be removed as powerful "tool in the toolbox"

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published August 30, 2023 11:50AM (EDT)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building on Wednesday, August 14, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building on Wednesday, August 14, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Georgia Republicans are considering ways to punish District Attorney Fani Willis after she indicted former President Donald Trump and 18 other defendants earlier this month.

State Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Republican, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Senate GOP leaders could hold legislative hearings around whether Willis is using "her position in a political manner" following her sprawling racketeering indictment. He added that he sees Senate Bill 92, a new law that allows a state panel to probe and boot errant prosecutors, as a powerful "tool in the toolbox" that allies of the former president can use to dive into Willis' employment of public resources.

"We believe she is definitely tainted," Gooch told the outlet. "She's politicizing this, and we want to make sure these people get a fair trial and a fair shake."

The initiatives form just two parts of a broader attempt by Trump's allies at the Georgia Capitol and in Congress to retaliate against Willis and other top prosecutors in Trump's four ongoing criminal cases. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is among the Republican legislators who encouraged the House Judiciary Committee to open an investigation into how much Willis' office receives in federal dollars and whether it has coordinated with White House officials. Greene has also floated the idea to Georgia officials to launch their own state-level inquiry into Willis.

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., hopes to use an upcoming appropriations bill to cut federal funding for Willis, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — who indicted Trump in March on falsifying business records charges in connection to a hush money payment — and federal special counsel Jack Smith — who brought down charges against Trump twice this summer in connection to his retention of national security documents after his presidency and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Willis declined the AJC's request for comment. But during the indictment announcement earlier this month, she said she acted "based on facts and the law."

"The law is completely nonpartisan," the district attorney said. "That's how decisions are made in every case."  

Gooch acknowledged that there are limits to GOP attempts to reprimand Willis. He joined other party leaders in condemning a petition by first-term Republican state Sen. Colton Moore to force a special legislative session to impeach the district attorney. That move would require the support of three-fifths of the legislature and, therefore, would need votes from Democratic members.

"We want to make sure we calm down, we look at this stuff deliberately and we do it in a mature way," Gooch said, explaining that he's talked with Moore multiple times about curtailing his jabs of fellow Republicans, whom he recently called "buzzard cowards."

"There's a lot of angry people in this state on both sides of this issue. But there's still a majority of the Republican base who feel like there was fraud in the 2020 election, and they don't feel like it was completely vetted properly and investigated," Gooch added of why they're seeking retribution against Willis. "And that's why a lot of these people are still upset today. They don't feel like they were heard. And I think Colton Moore resonates with those people, and they support what he's saying, but maybe not the way he's saying it and the way he's conducting himself in the chamber."

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Moore, however, has signaled he does not intend to mince his words. He told the outlet that his GOP colleagues should be enraged by the indictment of another counterpart, Sen. Shawn Still, who was among those charged in the Georgia indictment. Still has said he committed no wrongdoing when he served as a fake GOP elector.

"To hear that I need to tone it down when I'm encouraging my colleagues to do their legislative duty is absolutely ridiculous," Moore said, "and I hope of people of Georgia see what's going on."

Moore in an appearance on Steve Bannon's podcast warned of a potential civil war if Willis' prosecution is not defunded.

"I don't want a civil war. I don't want to have to draw my rifle. I want to make this problem go away with my legislative means of doing so," Moore said.

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The Republican effort to punish Willis was met with condemnation and allegations that the Senate was trying to abuse its power.

"When judges, juries, and multiple jurisdictions have determined that laws likely have been broken by the same and similar actions, to punish a prosecutor for pursuing justice here is a raw abuse of political power and violation of separation of powers fundamental to democracy," tweeted Sara Tindall Ghazal, a state election board member.

"It's the smell of desperation: attacking prosecutors when a defendant has no defense to stand on," added former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance. "But in Georgia, it's being taken to new and dangerous levels. Impossible to view this as anything other [than] an effort by Georgia GOP to place Trump above the law."

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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