In Atlanta, a Local Prosecutor Takes on Murder, Street Gangs and a President
Fani T. Willis strode up to a podium in a red dress late last month in downtown Atlanta, flanked by an array of dark suits and stone-faced officers in uniform. Her voice rang out loud and clear, with a hint of swagger.
“If you thought Fulton was a good county to bring your crime to, to bring your violence to, you are wrong,” she said, facing a bank of news cameras. “And you are going to suffer consequences.”
Ms. Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Ga., had called the news conference to talk about a street gang known as Drug Rich, whose members had just been indicted in a sprawling racketeering case. But she could have been talking about another crew that she is viewing as a possible criminal enterprise: former President Donald J. Trump and his allies who tried to overturn his narrow 2020 election loss in Georgia.
In recent weeks, Ms. Willis has called dozens of witnesses to testify before a special grand jury investigating efforts to undo Mr. Trump’s defeat, including a number of prominent pro-Trump figures who traveled, against their will, from other states. It was long arm of the law stuff, and it emphasized how her investigation, though playing out more than 600 miles from Washington, D.C., is no sideshow.
Rather, the Georgia inquiry has emerged as one of the most consequential legal threats to the former president, and it is already being shaped by Ms. Willis’s distinct and forceful personality and her conception of how a local prosecutor should do her job. Her comfort in the public eye stands in marked contrast to the low-key approach of another Trump legal pursuer, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
Ms. Willis, 50, a Democrat, is the first Black woman to lead Georgia’s largest district attorney’s office. In her 19 years as a prosecutor, she has led more than 100 jury trials and handled hundreds of murder cases. Since she became chief prosecutor, her office’s conviction rate has stood at close to 90 percent, according to a spokesperson.
Her experience is the source of her confidence, which appears unshaken by the scrutiny — and criticism — the Trump case has brought.