FLASHBACK: Media Rave About 'Strong Black' Woman Fani Willis 'Standing Up to Donald Trump'

Fani Willis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
January 16, 2024

Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis (D.), accused of hiring her lover to prosecute former president Donald Trump, is the latest anti-Trump icon to embarrass herself and her boosters in the media.

Willis allegedly engaged in an improper relationship with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she hired to lead the racketeering case against Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. A court filing in the case last week accused the pair of having a "clandestine" and "improper" relationship and taking vacations together to "Napa Valley, California, Florida and the Caribbean" with some of the $654,000 in legal fees Wade earned on the case. The scandal has drawn attention to Wade's limited experience prosecuting criminal cases in Georgia.

In a Sunday address to a black church in Atlanta, Willis neither confirmed nor denied the allegations but said she and Wade were being targeted because they are black and appealed to God to explain the injustice.

NYU law professor Stephen Gillers told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the allegations mean "the public and the state, as her client, could not have the confidence in the independent judgment that her position required her to exercise." The Washington Post reported that "the accusations, if true, could present a conflict of interest or could amount to fraud."

Flashback: In February 2021, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow gushed about her interview with Willis, who had just launched a criminal probe of Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

"Oh my god, like, she blew me away," Maddow said.

Fellow MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell agreed, saying, "Fani Willis is on the threshold of becoming the most famous district attorney in American history, period, done."

The next day, the Associated Press called Willis "a skilled litigator who isn't afraid of tough cases" and quoted a local lawyer as saying, "I would never question [Willis's] ethics. I would never question her diligence or her intelligence. She is a bulldog."

That March, the Daily Beast claimed, "Those who know Willis personally do not doubt her ability to handle this case."

In September 2021, a Time magazine article about "Atlanta's First Black Female District Attorney" described Willis as "one of those boss ladies who is small in stature but big in presence, a commander armed with high standards, an easy laugh and a knack for sustained eye contact."

Democratic lawyer Norm Eisen told NPR in July 2022 that Willis was "defending our democracy."

By February 2023, with Willis on the brink of bringing charges against Trump, the New York Times started an article with this description of her giving a press conference:

Fani T. Willis strode up to a podium in a red dress last year 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."

The Times went on: "Her experience is the source of her confidence, which appears unshaken by the scrutiny. … Ms. Willis tends to speak as if the world were her jury box. Sometimes she is colloquial and warm. In an interview, she noted, as an aside, how much she loved Valentine's Day: 'Put that in there, in case I get a new boo,' she said."

"Who is Fani Willis, the 'pit bull' prosecutor weighing Trump charges?" asked a Reuters headline the same day.

In August, an ABC News profile of Willis highlighted the evaluation of a Fulton County judge: "I would hate to have Fani Willis after me. She is a superb trial lawyer and the real deal."

On MSNBC, host Andrea Mitchell swooned over "strong black women standing up to Donald Trump."

In a segment titled "Faith in Fani," MSNBC host Symone Sanders-Townsend argued it was "proven" that Willis knew what she was doing. The host also told the prosecutor's Republican critics to "sit down."

Over at CNN, contributor Bakari Sellers claimed Willis's investigation would be uncomfortable for Trump because he "doesn't deal with black women very well."

CNN also brought on a former Georgia state attorney who declared that Willis was immune from distraction.

Apparently, the media learned nothing from uncritically hyping a series of previous would-be Trump-slayers who ultimately flamed out, including Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, and "Russiagate" special counsel Robert Mueller.