In an embarrassing blow to the prosecutor investigating election interference by former President Trump, an Atlanta judge has disqualified District Attorney Fani T. Willis of Fulton County from developing a criminal case against one Trump ally, citing a conflict of interest, the New York Times reports. Willis had recently notified State Senator Burt Jones, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, that he could face indictment. But on Monday, Judge Robert C.I. McBurney of Fulton County Superior Court barred her from pursuing a case against Jones because she had headlined a June fund-raiser for his Democratic rival in the race. Jones was one of 16 pro-Trump “alternate electors” in Georgia who were sworn in on the same day as the state’s legitimate presidential electors, who cast their votes for Biden. Willis’s office had recently warned the pro-Trump electors, as well as another state senator and the head of the Georgia Republican Party, that they could face charges in the matter.
The ruling on Monday does not affect any other portion of the sprawling investigation that Willis’s office is conducting with a special-purpose grand jury. Even so, it underscores the complicated political terrain that lies before Willis, a first-term Democrat. The ruling does not mean that Jones cannot be investigated. Willis’s office, the judge wrote, will still be able to ask witnesses about Jones’s role “in the various efforts the state Republican Party undertook to call into question the legitimacy of the results of the election.” However, he wrote, the decision “as to whether any charges should be brought, and what they should be, will be left to a different prosecutor’s office.” Peter J. Skandalakis, the executive director of the group, said in a statement on Monday that “it may be best” to wait until the special grand jury finishes its work before getting another prosecutor involved. He noted that Willis could no longer call Jones as a witness or issue subpoenas for his documents. But he said that the special grand jury, which will issue an advisory report after meeting for up to one year, may continue to investigate Jones’s conduct.