Who is Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who could take down Trump

Her first day as the chief prosecutor for Fulton County came with news that then-President Donald Trump attempted to pressure Georgia’s top election officials to reverse his loss in the state during the 2020 presidential election.

A phone call between Mr Trump and Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was published by The Washington Post late at night on 3 January, 2021.

Hours later, Fani Willis would walk into her first day on the job as Fulton County’s district attorney, an office that is now spearheading a criminal investigation into Mr Trump, with the phone call serving as a central damning piece of evidence against him.

For more than two years, her office has been investigating efforts to overturn election results in the state and the baseless allegations of widespread election fraud that fuelled them, adding to a long list of investigations and other legal consequences facing Mr Trump and others who rejected 2020 results.

On 14 August, a grand jury voted to charge the former president and 18 of his allies with 48 counts related to their alleged “criminal enterprise” to overturn election results in Georgia.

On 31 August, Mr Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived his arraignment – a move that means he can now avoid what would have been his first televised court hearing slated for 6 September.

Days earlier, Mr Trump was indicted on four counts in a separate federal probe led by US Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith into the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The closely watched case on the state level against the former president resulted in racketeering charges similar to those that Ms Willis has made a career out of bringing against dozens of others.

An anti-racketeering RICO statute – typically used to prosecute members of the Mafia and break up organised crime – has been used by her office in indictments against more than two dozen people connected to a sprawling Atlanta hip-hop empire, 38 alleged gang members, and 25 educators accused of cheating Atlanta’s public school system.

Evidence in the case includes Mr Trump’s infamous phone call, a breach of voting machines by a group of Trump-connected operatives, and a multi-state effort fuelled by conspiracy theories and legally dubious arguments to replace Georgia electors with a slate of Trump loyalists to certify his election in Congress.

The case also investigates the harassment of two Georgia election officials by a group of Trump-connected operatives and the baseless allegations of voter fraud and manipulation, a case that is separately at the center of a long-running defamation lawsuit.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, Black, white, Democrat or Republican,” Ms Willis told CNN last year. “If you violated the law, you’re going to be charged.”

Ms Willis graduated from Howard University in 1992 and Emory University School of Law in 1996. She began her career in the Fulton County District Attorney’s office in 2001, with roles in nearly every division in the agency, and serving as lead prosecutor in more than 100 jury trials.

She is the first Black woman elected to lead the count’s district attorney’s office.

Last year, her office charged rappers Young Thug and Gunna and 26 others in a sprawling, 65-count RICO case following an 88-page grand-jury indictment characterising their YSL group as a “criminal street gang” behind 182 instances of gang activity and criminal conspiracies.

Her office also led RICO indictments against 12 alleged members of the Bloods gang, including the rapper YFN Lucci, and 26 alleged members of the Drug Rich gang, connected to a gang string of robberies and home invasions across Atlanta.

“I have some legal advice: Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used,” she told reporters at a press conference last year. “Or at least get out of my county.”

In a controversial case from 2014, she served as the lead prosecutor in a RICO case involving 35 Atlanta public school educators tied to an infamous cheating scandal, ultimately resulting in racketeering convictions against 11 of 12 people accused of manipulating students’ standardised test scores.

As the county’s chief prosecutor, she has expanded her office’s gang unit and lobbied for passage of a statewide measure that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and increase the power of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in an effort to crack down on gang violence.

Former President Donald Trump is shown in a police booking mugshot released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

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