Live Updates: Key hearing in Georgia could derail Trump impeachment

Danny Hakim

Fulton County District Attorney Fannie T. Willis in August.Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

The stakes will be high Thursday when an Atlanta judge seeks to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fannie T. Willis should be disqualified from prosecuting former President Donald J. Trump on election meddling charges.

If Judge Scott McAfee finds that Ms. Willis has a conflict of interest because of her romantic relationship with the prosecutor she hired to handle the case, and that merits disqualification, his decision would further disqualify her entire position.

The case would then be transferred to another Georgia prosecutor, who would have the option to continue the case as is, make major changes — such as adding or dropping charges or defendants — or even drop the case entirely. The latest decision would end the prosecution of Mr. Trump and his allies for their actions in Georgia after the 2020 election, when the former president sought to reverse his loss in the state.

It would be up to a state entity called the Georgia State Attorney General’s Office to find someone else to take over the case. Rather, the decision would fall to the council’s executive director, Pete Skandalakis, an experienced former prosecutor.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Skandalakis said he might ask the prosecutor to voluntarily take over the Trump case. But he could also appoint a prosecutor to do the job – whether they wanted it or not.

Mr. Skandalakis said he might also try to find a lawyer in private practice to replace Ms. Willis. But that’s an unlikely scenario, he said, because he could only pay such a lawyer about $70 an hour.

The possibilities of Mr. Scandalakis may be limited, as few prosecutors’ offices in Georgia have the size or budgets to try the complex racketeering case targeting 15 defendants, including the former president of the United States and his former chief of staff.

Choosing a replacement would also be a politically complicated decision that would certainly raise concerns among partisans in one party or the other. The state’s two largest district attorney’s offices — with the staff and budgets that could handle the Trump case — are those in DeKalb and Cobb counties, which cover densely populated parts of the Atlanta suburbs. Those offices are currently held by Democrats.

Mr. Skandalakis, a Republican, could also theoretically choose to appoint himself as the new prosecutor.

A number of prominent Georgia Democrats believe that Mr. Skandalakis is honest. But he has also been criticized for a slow effort to find a prosecutor to consider whether Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Burt Jones, should face charges related to the Trump case.

In July 2022, a judge blocked Ms. Willis from bringing a case against Mr. Jones, who served as a bogus pro-Trump voter, because Ms. Willis hosted a fundraiser for one of Jones’ political rivals. No substitute prosecutor has been appointed.

This week, Mr. Skandalakis declined to say how quickly he would be able to find a replacement for Ms. Willis in the Trump case, if needed.

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