Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) raised eyebrows Thursday after making an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. Willis began a criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger just a day earlier.
In the segment, Willis acknowledged to Maddow that her investigation was “centered on but not limited to” the call in which Trump repeatedly demanded that Raffensperger “find” a winning number of votes.
“What I know about investigations is they’re kind of like peeling back an onion, and as you go through each layer you learn different things,” Willis told Maddow. “To be a responsible prosecutor, you must look at all those things and investigation to be fair to everyone involved.”
Willis then went beyond general discussions of the investigation. She talked about specifics, including which evidence she might rely upon to prove criminal intent.
Some political investigations experts commented that Willis made a mistake by bringing her messaging to the small screen.
“Not a good [sic] for prosecutor to be doing the @maddow show. Undermines seriousness and legitimacy,” tweeted attorney Ross Garber. Rather, he suggested, “Do investigation, and if the facts are there get an indictment. Try case in courtroom not on politically sympathetic tv shows. Why give Trump ammo for political witch-hunt argument.”
Not a good for prosecutor to be doing the @maddow show.
Undermines seriousness and legitimacy.
Do investigation, and if the facts are there get an indictment. Try case in courtroom not on politically sympathetic tv shows.
Why give Trump ammo for political witch-hunt argument. https://t.co/ouunW71LRl
— Ross Garber (@rossgarber) February 12, 2021
In an email to Law&Crime, Garber elaborated on his reasoning.
“I have seen so many lawyers do horrific damage to their cases and their reputations by doing media appearances for the wrong reasons,” he said. “A high profile case can turn toxic for a local elected prosecutor if he or she gives in to the siren song of attention.”
There is real danger for prosecutors who opt for ill-advised media attention, Garber explained.
“Many judges look askance at lawyers who try their cases in the press. A prosecutor should build a case carefully and methodically; bring charges if warranted; and try the case in a courtroom,” he said. “There are good reasons grand jury investigations are cloaked in secrecy and some of these are undermined when prosecutors discuss them in public.”
Others looked more favorably on Willis’ appearance, and had warnings for the former president. Law professor and former Department of Defense Special Counsel Ryan Goodman tweeted, “If I were Donald Trump listening to the Georgia Fulton County prosecutor’s interview with @maddow, I’d be very, very, very worried.”
If I were Donald Trump listening to the Georgia Fulton County prosecutor’s interview with @maddow, I’d be very, very, very worried.
Listen to this part. pic.twitter.com/KKptFR19U5
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) February 12, 2021
Willis and Maddow discussed Trump’s criminal intent at length. In Law&Crime’s past analysis, we have explained how proof of Trump’s intent during the Raffensperger call would likely be the most challenging part of Willis’ prosecution. Willis walked viewers through a potential prosecution theory on Trump’s criminal intent.
“Detailed facts become important,” Willis explained. “Like asking for specific number and then going back to investigate and understand that that number is just one more than the number that is needed,” she elaborated, referring to Trump’s repeated requests that Raffensperger find 11,780 votes. “It lets you know that someone had a clear mind, they understood what they were doing.”
Willis also discussed her overall commitment to fairness.
“Something the prior administration did was they bragged about having this process of indicting and charging people within 45 minutes,” she told Maddow. “I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to know that is probably an unjust process.” Instead, Willis explained, she is approaching the Trump investigation in a measured manner.
Willis next turned to some details of timing, discussing her reasoning for sending a letter to various officials instructing them to preserve documents related to Trump’s call.
“What I was doing as a courtesy to people that I respect very much, is simply putting them on notice,” said Willis. A grand jury would not be convened until March due to court schedules, and at that point, subpoenas would be issued if necessary.
Many found Willis’ appearance to be a preview of tough times to come for former President Trump. “Holy guacamole does he not know what he’s in for,” commented Maddow herself.
Yes, exactly what I was thinking. Holy guacamole does he not know what he’s in for… https://t.co/UEDcSxaHvp
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) February 12, 2021
[screengrab via MSNBC]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.