The prosecutor investigating whether former President Donald Trump and his allies attempted to illegally interfere in thein Georgia cannot challenge a lawmaker who signed a certificate falsely claiming Trump won the state, a judge ruled Monday.
Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney agreed with Republican State Senator Burt Jones that the Fulton County District Attorneyhad a conflict of interest because he organized a fundraiser last month for Jones’s Democratic opponent in the November election for lieutenant governor. McBurney said during a hearing last week that Willis’ decision to host the fundraiser was “a ‘What are you thinking?’ moment. The optics are horrible.”
Willis can still question other witnesses about Jones, the judge said, but he won’t be able to press charges against him. Instead, the Georgia Council of Attorneys, a nonpartisan association of Georgia district attorneys, should appoint another prosecutor to decide whether to bring charges against Jones, one of 16 Georgia Republicans who falsely claimed to be the “properly elected and qualified” of the state. “electors.
“Today’s ruling is a huge victory for our campaign, but more importantly, for due process and the rule of law in Georgia,” Jones said in an emailed statement.
Willis’ office was still reviewing the order and had no immediate comment, spokesman Jeff DiSantis said.
The judge’s decision on Monday likely has no real bearing on the future of Willis’s broader investigation into what she called “a coordinated, multi-state plan” by the Trump campaign to influence the results of the 2020 election. But it served as a rebuke to Willis and provided ammunition for her critics who accused her of pursuing a politically motivated case.
McBurney said in her order that Willis had a right to host the fundraiser, but that her decision “has consequences.”
“She has given the go-ahead of her office to Senator Jones’s opponent. And since then, she has publicly labeled (in her pleadings) Senator Jones a ‘target’ of the grand jury investigation,” the judge wrote. “This scenario creates a simple, real and unsustainable conflict. Any decision the district attorney makes about Senator Jones in connection with the grand jury investigation is necessarily infected by it.”
Willis is acting as “legal counsel” to the special grand jury and she and her prosecutors “largely shape the grand jury investigation by subpoenaing witnesses and directing their cross-examination,” McBurney wrote in his order.
The order says Willis and his team may not subpoena Jones or seek any records of him, may not publicly categorize him as a subject or target of the special grand jury investigation, and may not ask the special grand jury to include recommendations about him. in your final report.
McBurney denied a request by 11 of the other people who signed the fake voter certificate to disqualify Willis from matters relating to them and also refused to drop subpoenas for them.
Willis opened the investigation last year, and a special grand jury was seated in May at her request. The special grand jury cannot return an indictment, but will issue recommendations when its investigation is complete. Then it will be up to Willis to decide if she seeks a regular grand jury indictment.