Fani Willis ‘did what she needed to do’ during defiant testimony in misconduct hearing

Some believe District Attorney Fani Willis “did what she needed to do” while giving testimony during a Fulton County misconduct hearing to determine whether she should be disqualified from overseeing the criminal case in Georgia against former President Donald Trump. 

“She understood the assignment,” said Reecie Colbert, a political commentator and host of Sirius XM’s “The Reecie Colbert Show.” 

“She came out more on top than she started. When the news first broke, it was like, girl, come on…you knew better,” said Colbert. “Her approach to really tackle it head-on, be transparent and forceful, showed why they’re so scared of her.” 

During nearly two hours of testimony on Thursday, Willis defiantly pushed back against accusations from attorneys representing Trump and his allies that she and Nathan Wade, whom she hired as special prosecutor, financially benefited from the case. 

Court filings in a divorce case between Wade and his estranged wife revealed that he and Willis were romantically involved and vacationed together. Defense attorneys asserted that Wade, who had earned more than $700,000 since being hired as special counsel in November 2021, paid for the trips with money he had made from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.

During their testimonies, however, the now-former paramours said Willis paid Wade back with cash for every trip and that the relationship did not become personal until March 2022 – five months into Wade’s hiring – and ended in the summer of 2023.

“You’re confused! I am not on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020,” Willis fired back while being questioned. 

The Atlanta county’s first female district attorney lambasted Trump’s lawyers for “being intrusive into people’s personal lives” and contradicted claims they made that she and Wade lived together and that they were intimate the first night they met in 2019. Willis said the accusations were “a lie” and “highly offensive.”

“The issue before the court is one of self-dealing; did she hire her boyfriend to work on this case and then benefit financially from that arrangement?” explained Anthony Coley, a legal analyst. “What she did was disassemble that argument brick by brick.”

Coley, who previously served as public affairs director at the U.S. Department of Justice, said Willis “did not come to play” and came off as credible during her testimony.

“When you look at the totality of evidence that was presented in her striking testimony, it’s pretty clear that her prosecution of this case has nothing at all to do with her personal relationship with Mr. Wade,” he argued. 

Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade testifies during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on Feb. 15 in Atlanta. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images)

Similarly, Colbert said that while Willis committed a “bit of a self-inflicted wound” by having a romantic relationship with Wade while embarking on “the biggest case of her life,” she doesn’t believe it will have any bearing on the law. 

Defenders of Willis have pointed out that there are gender and racial aspects related to the public dissection of her private life. Before being elected vice president, then-Sen. Kamala Harris endured similar scrutiny related to her past relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

“You have this intersectional aspect of it, where you have race, but you also have gender, and some of the aspects with gender are going to involve sexuality,” explained Gbemende Johnson, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

Johnson told theGrio that when women are romantically tied to men, there are often questions of whether said men have helped their career or there are “suggestions of promiscuity.”

“Then you kind of add this additional layer with race…that can add another ingredient in terms of negative framing of relationships between what seems to be consenting adults,” she added.

Colbert said Black women “get this kind of treatment anytime they’re in a position where their authority is going to threaten the status quo.”

Takes on Willis’ performance on the witness stand have varied. The district attorney ignited familiar cultural references, like keeping cash on hand (something her father testified on Friday is a “Black thing”), and colloquialisms, like referencing $1,000 as “a G.” Online reactions appeared fascinated with Willis proclaiming Grey Goose vodka as her liquor of choice.

“So often, people want us to kind of conform to respectability politics and certain standards of professionalism that are more white-centric,” said Colbert, who argued that Black women are still professional, “even if we use colloquialisms and even if we have a little bit of swag.”

“I don’t know that everyone was completely expecting that level of realness…it also humanized her in a way that I think helped her cause,” said Coley, the legal analyst.  

While Willis may have won over some in the court of public opinion, it remains to be seen whether her testimony was enough to convince Judge Scott F. McAfee, a Republican appointee, that she could proceed with overseeing the historic criminal case against Trump and his allies. 

Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 6, 2023, in New York City. In a ruling on Feb. 16, 2024, a New York judge ordered Trump to pay over $350 million for misrepresenting his wealth. (Photo by Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images)

Coley said Willis and Wade’s relationship clouded the merits of the case. However, the district attorney “reset the conversation and refocused the public’s attention on what really is at issue here, and that is Donald Trump and his co-defendants corruptly tried to steal the election in 2020.”

Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, and his alleged co-conspirators have been charged with racketeering and conspiracy, accused of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. The former president infamously called the state’s secretary of state, asking him to “find 11,780 votes” after he lost the state’s election to then-President-elect Joe Biden. 

Colbert said if Willis “survives” the hearing by avoiding disqualification, she will likely “find herself in a stronger position.” 

“She came across as incredibly strong here and incredibly effective,” she continued, “and the fact that she was so authentic is something, I think, is going to resonate with a lot of people, particularly Black women.”

Johnson, the UGA professor, said she is particularly struck by the fact that three Black women, including Willis, have figured prominently in three very high-profile cases against Trump.

Judge Tanya Chutkan is presiding over Trump’s other election-related criminal case in Washington, D.C., brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, and New York Attorney General Letitia James successfully prosecuted Trump for fraudulent business practices, resulting in his having to pay $354 million. 

“It shows some of the strides that Black women have made in obtaining political and legal offices,” said Johnson. “It’s a fascinating dynamic to see what are the paths, what are the roles, and also what are the risks.”

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Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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During a misconduct hearing to determine if District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from overseeing the criminal case against former President Donald Trump in Georgia, some believe she handled her testimony well. Despite allegations of financial benefit from the case and a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade, Willis defended herself fiercely, denying the accusations. Legal analysts and commentators praised her transparency and forceful approach, disassembling the argument against her. While some see her romantic relationship as a self-inflicted wound, defenders point out gender and racial aspects in the scrutiny of her personal life. Willis’ authenticity and strength in her testimony resonated with some, but it remains to be seen if the judge will allow her to continue overseeing the case. Despite her personal life being scrutinized, her performance was seen as impactful and may strengthen her position if she survives the hearing. The case against Trump and his co-defendants involves racketeering and conspiracy in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. The prominence of Black women in high-profile cases against Trump reflects strides in obtaining political and legal offices, according to experts.

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