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This is how Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis can fix the mess she’s made

Willis makes a strong argument for why she should stay on the case against Trump. But she needs to remove from her team the attorney with whom she’s had a “personal relationship.”

A disclaimer upfront: I am a huge Fani Willis fan.

I love everything about the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney:?her confidence, her way of arguing in court, the trailblazing nature of her role as the first Black woman DA there. History will fondly remember Willis if she can deftly handle her immediate crisis: unwinding the arrangement in which she hired an outside lawyer — with whom she is romantically linked — to help prosecute her election conspiracy case against former President Donald Trump.

Willis noted correctly that the relationship has nothing to do with the strength of her RICO case against Trump and his 18 co-defendants.

In a 176-page court filing Friday, Willis acknowledged a “personal relationship” with Nathan Wade, a well-respected attorney and former judge, and she noted correctly that the relationship has nothing to do with the strength of her RICO case against Trump and his 18 co-defendants.

?But in the court of public opinion that doesn’t matter as much. Either Willis or Wade should step aside. My preference is Wade since Willis was elected by the people of Fulton County. Doing so is not just the right thing to do for the sake of optics; it is consistent with the high standard she promised voters in 2020.

That same year, a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against then-incumbent District Attorney Paul Howard by a former employee who said he’d wrongly fired her. When Willis, who was running against Howard, was asked about that case on “The Patricia Crayton Show,” she said, “I certainly will not be choosing people to date that work under me. Let me just say that.”

(Howard, who months after Willis’ answer was found not liable in that civil case, acknowledged he’d had a sexual relationship with the terminated employee, but he disputed her claim that they’d slept together while he was her boss and said the sexual relationship had ended before she worked in his office.)

To be clear: No one is accusing Willis of sexual harassment. Still, she did not meet the standard she set for herself, and by her own admission, she broke a promise she made to the people she asked to vote for her.

That said, the brief Willis submitted Friday is strong in shooting down the accusation that the case is tainted. She argues that there is no conflict of interest between her and Wade. And no direct or indirect financial benefit in the relationship, which, she says, began after Wade joined the district attorney’s office. Wade said in an affidavit that “no funds paid to me in compensation for my role as Special Prosecutor have been shared with or provided to District Attorney Willis. The District Attorney received no funds or personal financial gain from my position as Special Prosecutor.”

Given the known facts, there would appear to be little legal justification for Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to remove Willis or her office from the case.?McAfee has scheduled a Feb. 15 evidentiary hearing on the matter. On Friday, Willis encouraged the judge to deny the motions from RICO co-defendants to have their cases dismissed and Willis disqualified. The judge should deny those motions.

I certainly will not be choosing people to date that work under me. Let me just say that.

FANI WILLIS in 2020

But that’s the court of law. In the court of public opinion, Willis is likely in more trouble.

Her problems are further exacerbated by the fact that she and Wade stayed silent about the relationship for so long — four full weeks since defendant Mike Roman first made the claims.?Her silence was deafening and allowed Trump, Roman and others to shape the public narrative. She would have done herself a huge service by releasing the facts included in Friday’s brief much earlier, that is, before many people had already formed their opinions.

Now, she faces an ongoing churn of political and possible ethical investigations against a backdrop of her own re-election campaign: As The Washington Post noted, “the controversy is likely to swirl in public for weeks to come, with embarrassing questions about Willis’s personal life and finances potentially damaging the public’s — and a future jury’s — faith in her judgment and in the merits of the case.”

Willis made a compelling case Friday for why she and her office should continue prosecuting their election interference case against Trump.?She is likely to win on the merits.

But to keep the public focused on the case, Wade should step aside. His staying on would only distract from Willis’ noble efforts to hold Trump accountable for his relentless efforts to overturn American democracy.

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