Greg Bluestein, Tribune News Service
As newly-elected Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launches a wide-ranging investigation into possible election fraud by former President Donald Trump, some of her constituents worry that the nationally watched probe will distract her attention from pressing local issues such as crime and corruption.
Even some Fulton County residents and leaders who would love nothing more than to see Trump face criminal charges question whether it’s wise for the veteran prosecutor to dedicate the enormous time, energy and political capital required to bring charges against a former president.
“I need my district attorney to be as motivated to prosecute renegade police as she is to go after a renegade ex-president who is 600 miles away,” said Khalid Kamau, a South Fulton city councilman who said county prosecutors have a “record of passing the buck” when it’s time to make politically difficult decisions. While the investigation was welcomed by some national Democrats — and hammered by Trump allies — it comes as Willis grapples with another controversial local decision: her so-far unsuccessful attempts to recuse the office from prosecuting cases against eight current and former Atlanta police officers, including two involved in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks.
Attorney Chris Stewart, who represents the family of Brooks, said Willis shouldn’t lose sight of what’s unfolded in her backyard — namely the still-pending case against former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, charged with fatally shooting Brooks in June.
“All we want is the same attention and energy towards what happens locally here in Fulton County as we do in going after the former presidents,” Stewart said. Vince Champion, Southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which endorsed Willis, shares Stewart’s concern. He’d prefer to see long-delayed use-of-force investigations against Atlanta cops resolved ahead of any possible prosecution of the former commander-in-chief, though the union takes no position on the Trump probe.
“We all know the one with President Trump is going to take a long time and probably a lot of resources and we would hope we can get some of these other (cases) that are really more relevant locally out of the way,” Champion said.
Many other officials and activists in Fulton County say there’s no reason she can’t juggle local cases with the Trump investigation. They point to comments from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, who declared Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection and encouraged prosecutors to launch criminal investigations.
If a prosecution moves forward, Trump could hardly find a less friendly venue in Georgia. He won only about one-fourth of Fulton County’s votes in November, and Trump’s allies call it a continuation of a “witch hunt” in deeply Democratic territory. Some Republicans are seeking ways to prevent local prosecutors from pursuing similar inquests in the future. Willis took office promising a full overhaul — of office culture, policies and courtroom performance. She’s welcomed the return of many former prosecutors who felt constrained by her predecessor, Paul Howard. And she vowed to get tough on violent offenders after Atlanta endured a dramatic increase in homicides last year.
“I don’t want people to think any longer that Fulton County is a place where they can commit crime and get away with it,” Willis said.
Her supporters say she must ready herself to navigate a tricky balance. Former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood said the new DA can’t lose focus on local crimes but also has the duty to investigate Trump’s “disregard for civil and lawful behaviour.” And Eric Teusink, an Atlanta attorney, said he’s confident Willis has the resources to pursue the Trump investigation without sidelining other cases.
“She can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “She’s taking on a lot early on, but she didn’t ask for this to be placed in her lap.”
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