A Republican from Georgia, who is leading a special committee set up by the state Senate to check if Fulton County’s District Attorney, Fani Willis, did anything wrong, said clearly during their first meeting on Friday that he wants to stick to the facts. However, the main Democrat on the committee isn’t sure they can look past the committee’s political beginnings.
“It’s important that the public understand that this is not any type of witch hunt,” said state Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens, the Republican picked to lead the panel. “This is a question of truth.”
The special committee has the power to issue subpoenas
Last month, the majority Republican Georgia Senate agreed by a vote of 30-19 to form this special committee with the power to issue subpoenas. This happened after claims surfaced about Willis having a conflict of interest in her legal actions against Donald Trump. The issue was her “personal relationship” with a special prosecutor she brought in for the Trump case. Normally, Georgia’s legislative committees don’t have the authority to issue subpoenas or require people to testify under oath.
Willis’s office didn’t reply right away on Friday when asked for a comment through a text message.
Willis had appointed an outside lawyer, Nathan Wade, to lead the investigation and prosecution of Trump and 18 others for allegedly trying to illegally change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Earlier this month, in a legal document, Willis admitted to having a “personal relationship” with Wade.
This admission was in reply to a legal request from Michael Roman, who is being charged with Trump, to drop the case. The request argued that Willis and Wade shouldn’t continue with the case because Willis had paid Wade a lot of money, and then benefited personally when Wade spent some of his earnings on vacations for both of them.
Cowsert mentioned to journalists after the meeting that if people start believing that prosecutors are pursuing cases to make their partners wealthy and then enjoy the profits together, it damages public trust in the fairness of the criminal justice system.
Trump has often called Wade Willis’s “lover” while criticizing the prosecution.
The special committee will only look how state funds have been used, it can’t fire or punish Willis
The committee can’t punish or fire Willis. Its role is limited to suggesting changes in how state funds are used or to state legislation. However, the committee could thoroughly investigate Willis’s personal and professional affairs, potentially exposing any scandals. Lawyers for Roman and others want to achieve a similar goal in an upcoming court session, but the district attorney’s office plans to ask Judge Scott McAfee of the Fulton County Superior Court to dismiss the subpoenas.
Cowsert wouldn’t be shocked if the committee’s authority to issue subpoenas was questioned, but he believes it would be defended successfully.
Three Georgia Democrats are part of the nine-member special committee
The three Democrats out of the nine committee members agreed to rules allowing the hiring of external legal experts, researchers, and investigators, and to conduct private depositions and possibly close some hearings to the public. Cowsert expects the investigation to last “many months,” with significant work likely delayed until after the legislative session ends in late March.
Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat, expressed reluctance about the investigation during the meeting but hopes for a productive outcome and praised Cowsert for establishing fair rules. However, she shared her skepticism about bridging the partisan divide with reporters.
“I think that a political witch hunt or show trial would damage Georgians’ faith in both our political and legal system,” Butler said during the meeting. “Our duty as public servants is to strengthen, not weaken, that faith.”
Cowsert said “whistleblowers inside the Fulton County DA’s office” have contacted senators to allege that federal and state funds have been misused.
“We have had people come forward that have asked to speak with us with relevant information,” Cowsert told reporters after the meeting. “I don’t know that information yet. I’ve not interviewed them.”
This situation is similar to recent actions by U.S. House Republicans who demanded documents from Willis after a former staff member alleged she was dismissed for uncovering improper use of federal funds intended for gang prevention.
State Sen. Bill Cowsert claims that the committee won’t look into any legal case specifically
Cowsert emphasized that the committee would not meddle in any ongoing legal cases. He also noted their intention to avoid complicating the efforts to establish a new oversight commission for prosecutors, which is currently being considered by Georgia lawmakers. Governor Brian Kemp has expressed a preference for this commission to handle any investigations into Willis, rather than the Senate.
The Georgia state Senate, under Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones who identifies as a “Trump guy,” and other Republicans who supported Trump’s attempts to challenge the 2020 election results in Georgia, has taken the lead on this. A judge previously prevented Willis from prosecuting Jones because she held a fundraiser for his Democratic rival. This inquiry by the panel is taking place in a year when every legislative seat in Georgia is up for grabs.