What Trump prosecutor Fani Willis’s testimony reveals about the courtroom
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“It’s a lie! It’s a lie!” Those words from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis captured the bombastic testimony of the prosecutor accused of violating a host of ethical and local rules in the hiring of Nathan Wade, a former lover. The sudden appearance of Willis in the courtroom seemed like a Perry Mason remake as she stormed to the stand with a look of sheer lethality. She proceeded to denounce the media, prosecutors, and a former girlfriend for different levels of betrayal.
However, at points, Willis looked strikingly like the man she is prosecuting: Donald Trump. Like Trump, she defied calls of the court to confine her answers and respond to the questions. She attacked her critics, including the media, in diatribes that virtually ignored the questions. Unlike Trump, however, she got away with it.
Willis was allowed to extemporize at length on the “collusion” of the lawyers plotting against her and how “these people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020.”
Judge Scott McAfee, who had been doing a fine job controlling the courtroom, seemed to surrender control to Willis as she rambled on about women dating, the value of hoarding cash, and negotiating with foreign cab drivers.
She is also accused of out-of-court statements that undermined the case. Sound familiar?
In Trump’s case, judges repeatedly hit him with contempt sanctions, struck his testimony, and barred his discussion of certain defenses. He was fined for his out-of-court statements.
With Willis, McAfee politely nudged her to confine her answers and cautioned her that the court might have to intervene. He never did. Willis seemed to control the tenor and testimony until a clearly exhausted McAfee called it a day.
Outside the court, many on the left celebrated her confrontational, combative style. Where Trump was unhinged, Willis was unbowed. Where Trump’s rage was threatening, Willis’s rage was righteous.
That is not the only time that Trump came to mind after Wade and Willis took the stand.
In the Georgia prosecution, Willis is relying a great deal on a recorded conversation of Trump with Georgia election officials as they discussed what Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger described as a settlement discussion of Trump’s election fraud claims. Trump wanted a recount and the officials insisted that it was not likely to produce enough votes to make a difference. Trump insisted that “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.”
Critics insist that Trump was clearly pushing the officials to simply invent the votes when he pushed them to “find” the votes. Trump maintains that he was saying that was not many votes to find statewide to potentially change the outcome.
In the end, critics dismiss any other meaning of “find” as playing semantics.
Yet, both Wade and Willis had their own struggles over key words in the hearing on Thursday.
Wade was confronted by seemingly false sworn statements made to interrogatories related to his divorce case. For example, he was asked about his denial of “a sexual relationship during the time or his marriage and separation” as of May 30, 2023. That would seem clear. It is also now confirmed that he had a sexual relationship with Willis in 2022 at a minimum.
Wade, however, insisted that he read the question as being confined to sexual relations “in the course of my marriage.” The fact that the question clearly asked about any sexual relationship up to May 30, 2023 did not matter to the lead prosecutor in the Georgia election case.
Willis then offered her own semantic spins. She was asked about local rules barring paying or employing family or intimate friends. Willis declared that she viewed Wade not as an employee but a contractor or “agent.”
Willis added another semantic twist when confronted by another rule barring the receipt of the aggregate of more than $100 from an employee or contractor. Willis just said that, while she may have accepted more than $100 from Wade, it balanced out in the end because she bought things for him. Both, however, insisted that they dealt largely in cash with no receipts or records.
Those interpretations of key words are considered by Wade and Willis to be fair game. However, an alternative meaning of what was meant by the word “find” is clearly not only unreasonable but a basis for prosecution.
None of this is likely to end the Georgia case. Even if Wade and Willis were disqualified, it is likely that the court would allow the case to move forward under their subordinates. Moreover, Willis may have succeeded in giving McAfee enough to express condemnation with her conduct but to reject her disqualification.
If so, the court would ignore the fact that both Wade and Willis are accused of making false statements not just in their testimony this week but prior filings. They would be allowed to prosecute defendants in the Georgia case charged with making such false statements in filings in other cases.
In the end, Willis knew her audience. She knew that the judge would likely allow her to control own testimony. She knew that many in the public would view her combative testimony as justified, even inspiring. Most importantly, she knew she is not Trump and, for many, that is enough.