Republicans in Georgia are scrambling to slap new limits on local prosecutors’ authority, just as an Atlanta-based criminal probe of former President Donald Trump nears its dramatic conclusion.
And the prosecutor eyeing Trump for possible criminal charges has slammed their plans as “racist” and “dangerous.”
GOP officials are fine-tuning a proposal to establish a five-member oversight panel with the power to investigate, discipline or fire local prosecutors for “willful misconduct in office” or “willful and persistent failure to carry out duties.” Members would be appointed by the state’s Republican-dominated leadership—raising the specter of possible political influence over criminal prosecutions.
The legal turf war has erupted just as Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is in the final stages of deciding whether to criminally indict Trump and his allies for meddling in the 2020 election. Charging decisions are “imminent,” Willis said in January. A special purpose grand jury recommended Willis charge over a dozen people, including famous names and “potentially” Trump himself, the group’s foreperson, Emily Kohrs, said in February.
If Trump is charged this year, his case could still be open when the oversight panel swings into action. If so, that might hand the state’s Republican establishment a new and powerful tool to influence Willis’ work.
Willis is the first Black woman to serve as the top prosecutor of Georgia’s largest county. She blasted the GOP-backed proposal as a racially-motivated reaction to Georgia’s election of a raft of new minority prosecutors in 2020.
“The governor has publicly stated his desire to ‘beat far-left Democrat district attorneys’ and now his party wants to undermine the will of the voters by removing duly elected DAs they deem rogue,” Willis said in a statement to VICE News. “This is a power grab that ultimately seeks to undemocratically and arbitrarily undo election results.”
Elsewhere, she’s been even more blunt.
“I’m tired and I’m just going to call it how I see it,” recently told the Fulton County legislative delegation, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “I, quite frankly, think the legislation is racist. I don’t know what other thing to call it.”
Tempers flared between Willis and state Republicans during a Georgia state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss the proposal in late February.
“This bill was never deemed necessary until an historic thing happened in 2020, and let’s just talk about it and tell the truth,” Willis said. “In 2020, we went from having five district attorneys that are minorities to 14 that are minorities.”
GOP State Senator Bill Cowsert, the 64-year-old brother-in-law of Governor Brian Kemp, fired back.
“For you to come in here and try to make this about racism, that this bill is directed at any district attorney or solicitor because of racism, is absurd, and it’s offensive,” Cowsert said. “It’s a racist statement on its own.”
The panel, Cowsert insisted, would address “willful misconduct in office.”
GOP state Senator Brian Strickland chimed in to chide Willis: “You’re being emotional right now.”
Trump has also spoken out in favor of the plan—and re-upped his own racially-charged attacks on Willis.
“The Racist District Attorney in Atlanta, Fani T. Willis, one of the most dangerous and corrupt cities in the U.S., is now calling the Georgia Legislature, of course, RACIST, because they want to make it easier to remove and replace local rogue prosecutors who are incompetent, racist, or unable to properly do their job,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social account earlier this week. “This is a great development for Georgia, but also other parts of the Country. Congratulations to the Georgia Legislature for having the courage to act boldly, fairly, and fast!”
“This is a power grab that ultimately seeks to undemocratically and arbitrarily undo election results”
Georgia governor Brian Kemp supports the plan. So does Lt. Governor Burt Jones, who was at one time a subject of Willis’ inquiry.
Jones was one of 16 so-called “fake electors” who signed a false certificate declaring Trump the winner of the state. Willis sent all 16 of them target letters, notifying them they could be charged with crimes. But Jones managed to get a local judge to recuse Willis from his case by pointing out that she held a fundraiser with his political opponent.
The Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia has not yet said whether it plans to appoint another District Attorney’s office to Jones’ case.
But under a bill approved by the state Senate last week called SB92, which would establish the prosecutorial oversight panel if it becomes law, Jones himself would be able to appoint one of the panel’s five members.
Willis insists that prosecutors should have discretion to decide which cases to bring after they win the votes of their constituents, without having appointed overseers questioning their judgment.
“You can’t have a policy that you’re going to ignore the laws that the state of Georgia passes,” Cowsert told Willis during the state Senate hearing.
“Why don’t you ask these prosecutors how many of them have prosecuted adultery, because that’s a law on the books,” Willis fired back. “I take my oath very seriously, but I also have to make decisions every day about who to prosecute, and who not to prosecute, with the resources I have.”