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Messy Diversion in Georgia Trump Case Creates Perception Problem

U.S.Messy Diversion in Georgia Trump Case Creates Perception Problem

At some point in the coming weeks or months, the Georgia criminal case against former President Donald J. Trump and his allies will presumably focus once again on the defendants and whether they conspired to overturn Mr. Trump’s election loss there in 2020.

But the extraordinary detour that the case has taken, plunging into the intimate details of a romantic relationship between the two lead prosecutors and forcing them to fight accusations of impropriety, may have changed it fundamentally. Now it is unclear whether the case will even remain with Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, since lawyers for Mr. Trump and other defendants are seeking to have her entire office disqualified.

Even if the presiding judge allows Ms. Willis to keep the case, she is likely to face tough scrutiny from now on, including from a new state commission that will be able to remove prosecutors and from the Georgia Senate, which has opened an investigation.

The controversy has also provided fresh fodder for Mr. Trump and his allies, who are adept at exploiting their opponents’ vulnerabilities. Mr. Trump was already making inflammatory attacks on Ms. Willis even before her relationship with Nathan J. Wade, the lawyer she hired to help run the election interference case, came to light.

If nothing else, Ms. Willis’s decision not to disclose her relationship with Mr. Wade from its outset has created a messy diversion from an extremely high-stakes prosecution. Even if the revelations do not taint a jury pool in Fulton County, where Democrats far outnumber Republicans and Ms. Willis has many admirers, her world-famous case could face a lasting perception problem. And if the case gets taken from her, more serious problems may follow.

Judge Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court suggested on Friday that he is likely to not rule next week on whether the relationship created a disqualifying conflict of interest. But already, state officials are considering what might happen if Ms. Willis, who has given no indication that she will step aside voluntarily, has to hand off the case to another district attorney in the state.

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