Who is Fani Willis, the ‘pit bull’ prosecutor weighing Trump charges?

By Andrew Goudsward and Tom Hals

(Reuters) – Fani Willis, the district attorney in Georgia’s Fulton County who is pursuing a criminal investigation of Donald Trump over his contacts with state officials concerning the 2020 U.S. election, has been described as a “pit bull in the courtroom.”

That would be the kind of tenacity Willis, 51, would need if she decides to bring criminal charges against the Republican former president. Any such indictment would be of a different magnitude for a local prosecutor whose office typically focuses on violent crime and wrongdoing in the Atlanta area.

Some of her big cases to date have included charges against teachers who cheated to improve the standardized test scores of their students to get cash bonuses and promotions and charges against a rapper accused of gang activity. In both instances, she employed an anti-racketeering law meant to break up organized crime.

Willis, a Democrat, has taken an aggressive approach in the Trump investigation, subpoenaing some of his allies including Republican U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, while waging court battles to compel their testimony.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, Black, white, Democrat or Republican,” Willis, who is Black, told CNN last year. “If you violated the law, you’re going to be charged.”

Trump, who in November announced another run for the presidency in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and has called Willis a “Radical Left Prosecutor.”

A spokesperson for Willis did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

At the heart of the investigation is Trump’s January 2021 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to “find” just enough votes to reverse his narrow loss in the pivotal state to Democrat Joe Biden. Willis also has examined a scheme to appoint an alternate slate of electors in a bid to award Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump, rather than Biden, ahead of congressional certification of the election results.

To assist with the Trump investigation, Willis retained private Atlanta lawyer John Floyd, who wrote a guide on prosecuting state racketeering charges and worked with Willis on the teacher case. The move led to speculation she is building a case against Trump or his associates around Georgia’s anti-organized crime law.

Trump has accused her of targeting him for political gain and criticized her handling of violent crime in Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city and part of Fulton County.

    Willis told a judge on Jan. 24 that a decision on whether to bring criminal charges was “imminent” after a special grand jury completed its work. Portions of the grand jury’s report are expected to be publicly released on Thursday, though any recommendations on criminal charges will remain sealed for now. It is possible no charges will arise from the investigation.


“She’s a pit bull in the courtroom,” said Vincent Velazquez, a former Atlanta homicide detective who worked with Willis during her time as an assistant district attorney. “You give her an inch, she’s going to take a foot.”

Willis told South Atlanta Magazine in 2021 that she was raised primarily by her father, a criminal defense attorney who was a member of the Black Panther Party, a Black power movement that began in the 1960s.

She graduated from Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington that Vice President Kamala Harris also attended, and Emory University School of Law in Atlanta before working as a criminal defense and family law attorney in private practice.

    Willis worked from 2001 to 2018 in the Fulton County prosecutor’s office, then won election as county prosecutor in 2020, defeating her former boss, Paul Howard. She faces re-election next year.

Georgia’s racketeering law is more far-reaching than its federal counterpart, enabling charges against “corrupt organizations” if the prosecution can show they engaged in a pattern of criminal activity including two or more separate offenses.

In the teachers case, a jury convicted 11 of 12 defendants who went to trial in 2015 of racketeering and conspiracy.

Some defense attorneys have voiced concerned that Willis has strayed beyond the law’s intended use and targeted speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“There is an overuse and abuse of the statute,” said Jay Abt, a Georgia criminal defense lawyer who represents witnesses in the election investigation and is defending indicted rapper Deamonte Kendrick, known as “Yak Gotti.”

Kendrick was indicted by Willis alongside rapper Jeffery Lamar Williams, who performs as Young Thug, and other hip hop artists accused of involvement in street gangs. That trial is ongoing.

“She wants to understand all the issues before making a decision,” Brian Steel, a lawyer representing Young Thug, said of Willis.

Steel said Willis often takes meals in her office and will respond to text messages at all hours of the night.

“She will tell why she agrees or disagrees and will back off cases,” Steel added.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward in Washington and Tom Hals in Wilimington, Delaware; Editing by Will Dunham, David Bario and Noeleen Walder)