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Judge Rules District Attorney Fani Willis Can Stay on Trump Election Case. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 10:00:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome to our second hour of CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Rahel Solomon live in New York.

We want to start this hour with breaking news that you heard exactly an hour go right here on CNN. The judge in Donald Trump's election subversion

case in Georgia has now ruled that the district attorney, Fani Willis, who is prosecuting the case, can remain on the case, but his ruling states that

that can happen only if the special prosecutor that she appointed withdraws from the case. The defense had claimed that Willis financially benefited

from that relationship with Nathan Wade, who you see on your screen here.

Let's start this hour with Ryan Young, who is following this for us from Atlanta.

Ryan, of course, we had been waiting weeks for this decision. It is now out. Walk us through the ruling.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good Morning, Rahel. Look, this is so much to this at this point. Like you said before basically the judge has

said Fani Willis can stay, Nathan Wade has to go, and as we went through all this, you can see the fact that Nathan Wade not only had a relationship

with Fani Willis, but at some point it came into question about whether or not the financials matched up.

And both Fani Willis, Nathan Wade admit to taking several trips with each other. This happened between October 2022 and 2023. Some of these trips

were very expensive and at some point Fani Willis started paying him in cash. Well, in court, the conversation started to come up about whether or

not that was improper. The judge basically says there's a lot of about this that doesn't seem right.

And if you're a prosecutor, you want the public to believe that you're running above board. Maybe that didn't work out the way, but Fani Willis

gets to stay in this case. So many people were wondering whether or not this prosecution would move forward. I can tell you this for sure. If she

was removed from this case, more than likely this prosecution would not be able to move forward in the way that people wanted to.

Now, we know that Fani Willis' office wanted to try to prosecute this case before the November election. Already with Nathan Wade maybe being pulled

off this, it may slow that down because you still have to do jury selection.

Some of the things that we also been going through is the fact that we know for a fact that at this point Nathan Wade was paid $650,000 and so Donald

Trump's group and organization and lawyers were trying to say that because of those benefits that Fani Willis was directly able to financially benefit

from that. She says she uses cash and you can understand why she was apparently so angry about this.

When she was in court two weeks ago she was basically saying she should not be the one on trial. So when you pull all this back, all this conversation,

especially here in Fulton County, people now know this judge, Judge McAfee, has moved forward by basically calling a lot of this into question. But at

the same time even saying that they use poor judgment. But Fani Willis gets to stay.

We also know she's not going to step in front of the cameras today. They've already made that decision before this judgment came out so at this point,

we have to read through this and see some of the parts of this, how they move forward in terms of prosecution in this case?

SOLOMON: And Ryan, we'll leave it here but as you read through it, of course, the language here was quite strong from the judge. Even though he

decided to allow the district attorney to stay on the case, it doesn't mean that he let her necessarily get away unscathed.

YOUNG: Right.

SOLOMON: Because there was some very strong language.

YOUNG: And there's one thing that stood out to me. There's this at this point, she's become famous. She went to her church and she spoke from the

pulpit. She basically started talking about how this involved race. And Steve Sadow, Donald Trump's attorney, has seized on that and basically

said, look, shed brought the race card into this.

SOLOMON: And Ryan --

YOUNG: Oh, go ahead.

SOLOMON: Actually, I think we have that soundbite. Let's actually play it for our viewers.

YOUNG: Fantastic. Please. Yes.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I hired one white man, brilliant, my friend and a great boy.


And I hired one black, another superstar. A great friend and a great boy. First thing they say, she's going to play the race card now.


SOLOMON: So, Ryan, let me let you finish your thought, but the judge did address those statements and his statements.

YOUNG: He did. And I'm looking at Steve Sadow's statement about this. He says while respecting the court's decision, we believe the court did not

afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade, including the financial benefits. Testifying truthfully about

when their personal relationship began as with Willis.

And so you understand there's still so much question about when this relationship started and when you put all this together, this really gets

played out sort of all incorporated at the same time in the public eye. Nathan Wade was going through a divorce. It sounds like it was quite messy

at some point. So people wanted to just sort of figure out when the relationship with Fani Willis started. Did it start before he was hired or


They contend that it started afterwards, and then he was supposed to be paid a certain amount of money. But because of the overtime in this case,

$650,000 was paid to Nathan Wade. Then obviously, Fani Willis makes a certain amount of money and then they started traveling together. One of

the trips to Miami and Aruba was over $5,000. She said she paid for her half in cash because she never wanted to be beholden to a man.

So all this has played out in Fulton County. And as you can understand, people were wondering what was going to happen with this, but the judge, he

said over and over again, he wanted to do something that not only would he follow the law, but he wanted to make sure that he called it like he saw

it, and that's why you can see there are some very strong language in this about how he feels, what was going on in that DA's office as we're going

through this right now -- Rahel.

SOLOMON: Yes. And Ryan, look, you know, we'll leave it here, but I will say that we have had reporting at CNN at least about some of those trips, that

trip to the Vineyard in California, where the employee at the Vineyard said, actually, I remember them very well and she did pay cash so we'll

leave it here.

Ryan young, so good to have you today. Thank you.

Let's continue the conversation now and bring in David Weinstein. He's a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami.

David, good to have you on this day. Just walk me through your top-line reaction to this decision. Are you surprised?

DAVID WEINSTEIN, FORMER STATE AND FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I'm not surprised. My biggest question throughout this whole process was, would the judge find

there was an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict? And he's answered that question for us. And so that's why Fani Willis is on the edge

of this dilemma now. You know, she can stay on the case, but the person she selected to move it forward has to be removed. And the judge's rulings did

call into question a lot of decisions that were made that led to this appearance of impropriety.

Rahel, you have to remember in the system itself whether you're representing the state, the government, or the defense, you want to make

sure that you are appearing to be who you are. Defendants are very zealous advocates on the party of their clients. But for the prosecution, you have

to stay middle of the road. You have to do things that don't call your integrity into question. And that's what happened here.

And while it was a small victory for her because she's allowed to stay in the case within his opinion, the judge made some very poignant and pointed

remarks about her actions and what she did. And he gave her an out. He said you can stay on the case, but the person you selected to lead this case, he

has to go or it's going to rise to the level of a far greater problem for you.

SOLOMON: David, there are so much here that I think we can get into. There are the legal implications, there are the logistical implications, and

there are the court of public opinion implications. Let me just start with practically speaking. Assuming that she removes Nathan Wade, what does that

do to the case? Does that inevitably mean that there has to be an additional delay? Is there any likelihood that this happens, this trial

goes to trial before November, before the election?

WEINSTEIN: Rahel, I thought it was very unlikely that it was going to actually go to trial before the election due to the number of counts, the

number of defendants, the volume of evidence that was within this case. It was going to come real close to November before the case can go to trial.

But simply removing one prosecutor, although he was the lead prosecutor, there are a team of other prosecutors.

It's March. They can step in. They know what the evidence is, they know what their burden of proof is. It's not so much that the prosecution is

going to need more time. They claim they were ready last year when some of the defendants demanded a speedy trial. And so I don't see that being an

issue for when this case goes to trial.

SOLOMON: How about the implications and the dynamics in the courtroom? This is the district attorney who will now have to present in front of this

judge, obviously, a jury will ultimately make the decision about the facts of the case. But how does that change the dynamics in the relationship

between now Fani Willis and Judge Scott McAfee?


WEINSTEIN: Look, she has to respect his ruling. And, you know, in most courtrooms, the actual district attorneys, the lead prosecutor for that

jurisdiction. They don't try cases. It's assistant district attorneys, assistant United States attorneys. Those are the people who try the cases

so while she'll be leading the prosecution, while she is the person whose name appears on the papers, I doubt at this point that she's going to be

one of the people who is in the courtroom who's presenting this case just to the jury, who's questioning witnesses.

Thats just my opinion. But I think that given the ruling this court made and the impact it has on the jury pool, and as you mentioned, the court of

public opinion, she needs to step back and take a strictly managerial role on this. Select someone else to be the lead prosecutor on this case, and

let that person be the face of the D.A. in the courtroom.

SOLOMON: We did see some of the other prosecutors when she was testifying. And so perhaps we see more of any of those other prosecutors.

David, we're going to just pause right here and take a quick break. We're going to have more on this just after the break. Stay with us.


SOLOMON: Welcome back. We continue to follow breaking news out of Atlanta, Georgia. A judge in the U.S. state of Georgia has ruled that district

attorney Fani Willis who you're seeing here can stay as the prosecutor in Donald Trump's election interference case there. But the judge also said

that if she stays the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, with whom Willis had a personal relationship, has to go. Trump's team had been seeking to have

her removed.

For more on this I want to bring in CNN's senior crime and justice reporter, Katelyn Polantz, who joins us live from Fort Pierce, Florida. She

is there because Trump is facing another criminal case there.

But let's just talk about the politics of this case for a moment, Katelyn. I would have to imagine that this is not necessarily great news for Trump

and his team despite the very strong language we heard from the judge directed at Fani Willis.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. But it's not a situation where Donald Trump and his lawyers are not going to

try to exploit it as much as they can for the politics and the public perception here.

So in this case, Rahel, the judge has a courtroom that must be controlled. That's how the system works. You control everything you can, what can be

brought in, what can be told to a jury. And in this situation, the judge is saying, this is what I'm doing legally. I am not going to dismiss this case

as the defendants wanted and I'm going to say that their rights are not being infringed upon here because of this relationship between Fani Willis,

the D.A., and her top prosecutor on the case, Nathan Wade.

But the judge is looking at what he calls this wading into the choppy waters of public perception that Fani Willis has done. Now, by some public

comments she made in January at a church where she was speaking about the defendants broadly, talking about they wanting to focus on her relationship

with Nathan Wade.


And what the judge writes is very important in how he's trying to respond to this political atmosphere that surrounds this case, not just because of

Fani Willis' comments, but how much Trump and others are talking about this, trying to put the pressure on Fani Willis here.

The judge writes, "A perceived conflict in the reasonable eyes of the public threatens confidence in the legal system itself. When this danger

goes uncorrected, it undermines the legitimacy and moral force of our already weakest branch of government."

So the judge's recommendations here that either the DA's office divest themselves of this case or Nathan Wade step aside. That is in response to

controlling this environment, to making -- trying to make it more of something that there isn't public comment and there isn't distraction here

where people can't look at this case for the facts alone because that is what will have to happen when it goes to a jury at trial.

SOLOMON: And, Katelyn, I should say just speaking to just some legal analysts this morning, the indication is that this may be delayed even

further. And just a quick note, I mean, you are again in Fort Pierce, Florida, where there is a question about the timing of even that case.

POLANTZ: Right. And Rahel, each of these cases, the defense strategy very simply has been delay, delay, delay as much as you can. They're getting

that in at least three of the cases right now, potentially, this case as well. There's a monster list of opinions that Judge Cannon here in the

classified documents federal case against Donald Trump still has to rule on. Those are getting backed up. We don't have a trial date here in New


There looks like a delay coming to the March, late March start date for that trial. That might be a month or two, something like that. And then on

top of that, there's that case in D.C. We're waiting for what the Supreme Court does related to presidential immunity and Donald Trump as president

after the 2020 election on those conspiracy charges related to January 6th.

So all of those delay questions are hanging around this but there are other questions too about what happens here in the coming months as those delays

happen. And one of the things that Donald Trump's team has clearly done, not just in Fulton County with Fani Willis under oath having to testify

about her relationship personally with Nathan Wade, the top prosecutor, is that they've tried to put the focus back on the prosecutors in all of these

cases, asking for hearings where that potentially there could be questions raised about how these cases were charged, how they were brought, who the

people are behind them.

Donald Trump, over his time, not just as a candidate, as a president, but now as a criminal defendant, much of it has been about questioning the

system. And that is what he's doing now, not just in this Fulton County case, but in all of the cases, including the one here in Florida where we

were just in court yesterday for five hours.

SOLOMON: And we should also point out it appears that there will now be a delay in the New York case where it looks like we may see a delay of 30

days to 90 days, in the hush money case.

Katelyn Polantz, it's good to have you. Live for us there in Fort Pierce, Florida. Katelyn, thanks so much.

Let's continue the conversation now and bring in Nick Akerman. He is a former assistant special Watergate prosecutor and joins us now.

Nick always good to have your insights on these hugely monumental legal days. Let me just ask your first topline reaction to this decision by the


NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I think it was the right decision. He found that there was no proof. I'll read the basis

of this decision is that the evidence demonstrated that the financial gain flowing from her, Willis' relationship with Wade was not a motivating

factor on the part of the district attorney to indict and prosecute this case.

So there was no there, there. And I think the judge was absolutely correct in doing that. Now he went one step further with respect to this appearance

of impropriety. I don't believe as a matter of law he had to come out and say that either Willis has to go or that Wade has to go. But I think at the

end of the day, he has done the case a great favor because he's essentially eliminating this whole issue and the cloud that hangs over the case that

came out as a result of this hearing and the evidence that came out in Fulton County.

So I think what he's trying to do is put all that behind the case. Willis will go ahead, prosecute this case. In fact, this still may go to trial in

August as she had requested before. This case already has four cooperating witnesses, people who have pled guilty. I think it's just going to chug



And the question now is, how can she position herself among the other three cases that are out there?

SOLOMON: Well, Nick, let me push back against that a bit. Does it remove the cloud that hangs over the case? Because as you rightly pointed out, she

can remain on the case but the judge's decision also came with some very, very strong language about Fani Willis. He called her conduct

unprofessional. He said it was a tremendous lapse in judgment and that's just to name a few.

I mean, these are now certainly out in the ether, but certainly even in the court of public opinion. I mean, these are really strong words.

AKERMAN: Yes, but it's not going to make any difference. This is a very typical motion in a lot of ways, even though it involves -- you know, kind

of sex facts that really underlie the motion. It's not uncommon in almost I'd say every prosecution, but I certainly had it brought against me a

number of times of prosecutorial misconduct, and normally in those cases, you have to show that in some way what happened has undermined the rights

of the defendant and the rights to a fair trial.

That has not happened here. This case is going to move forward. Fani Willis is not going to be the person actually trying the case. That never happens.

Almost never happens in a prosecutor's office. There are going to be other people who are going to be on the frontline doing this case. It's going to

move forward just as it was moving forward before and it's not going to be long before people just forget about what happened here, particularly with

Wade gone.

SOLOMON: Nick, what about the possibility of an appeal? How would that work?

AKERMAN: Well, I suppose they could try and appeal the judge's decision, but I don't see that going anywhere. He -- I mean, I've had a chance to

read it, skim it, it's all based on pretty solid Georgia law. It's well- reasoned, it's well-written, it's not the case you can appeal in the middle of a case. I don't see that going anywhere. They may try it, but I think

that's just going to get denied.

SOLOMON: Nick, let me just -- let me ask you something. Even though the judge decided that Fani Willis can remain on the case legally, in terms of

the optics of the district attorney having this relationship with the special prosecutor, do think that it is damaging for public trust in the

justice system?

AKERMAN: Yes, it wasn't a smart move on her part. No question about it. But the fact of the matter is Fani Willis is not going to be the person

actually prosecuting the case. There are going to be assistant district attorneys in her office that are going to be doing this, have been doing

it. It's pretty uncommon for the actual district the attorney or the U.S. attorney in the federal system to actually try the case.

And as we saw throughout this case up to this point, it's really been her assistance that have done it. I don't really think it's going to make any

difference. She's not going to be the face person on the case. It's going to go ahead. People are going to see it on television. They're going to see

other people involved in it.

They're going to hear the evidence and the people who are really on trial are not Fani Willis. These are the defendants, are charged with very

serious crimes including racketeering. And I think the public is going to understand that once the prosecution starts presenting that evidence.

SOLOMON: It's interesting that you used that language, Nick, because we heard Fani Willis also make the point when she was on the stand that she is

not the one on trial, and I think we have that soundbite control room. If we do, let's play it.

OK. We will bring it later is what I'm being told.

But, Nick, just sort of walk me through the testimony that we saw from Fani Willis, the reaction that we have now seen from the judge. You pointed out

that the judge went a step further than what he had to do legally. Do think that that was because of what we saw on the witness stand, the sort of

fiery language we saw that the judge sort of felt compelled to address what was televised, what we all witnessed?

AKERMAN: well, he certainly addressed it, but I mean, he addressed it in the context of the burden that the defense had to carry in order to get any

relief here. They simply didn't carry the burden. They didn't prove what they claim they were going to prove, which is that Fani Willis somehow

benefited from her relationship with Nathan Wade then fell flat. And in order to get any relief here, the defense really had to prove that they


The burden was on them. So the judge very strictly followed the law here.


And then he looked at this whole idea of appearance of impropriety, which he could have very well said that since there was nothing that really made

a difference here, he didn't have to go any further, but I think he really did the case a big favor by doing what he's done. He's basically eliminated

Nathan Wade from the case, which means that the case is going to go forward. It's going to have other people being the face of the case, which

they have been all along. And I think the public is going to put this in the rearview mirror pretty quickly.

SOLOMON: Nick, stand by for just a minute. I actually want to send -- toss to that soundbite that I believe we now have ready.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your office objected to us getting Delta records for flights that you may have taken with Mr. Wade.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I object to you getting record. You've been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're

confused. You think I'm on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial no matter how hard you try to

put me on trial.


SOLOMON: So, Nick, I'm just curious. In the universe of liability and criminal indictments that the former president faces, talk to me about from

your perspective how damning, if at all, the evidence and the allegations in this case, the Georgia election interference case, is and how much more

risks that pose two to the former president.

AKERMAN: Oh, the allegations here are absolutely damning. It involves a whole series of events relating to his effort to try and keep the peaceful

transfer of power from taking place. Focused on the Georgia election as well as other aspects of it. You've got Donald Trump on tape I think two or

three times or more with various people in Georgia and most famously with the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, where he's trying to get --

pressure Raffensperger to find more votes to get them the win in the state.

And you've got lots of testimony from various witnesses, including some of the defendants who have now pled guilty and have agreed to cooperate. This

is an extremely strong, overpowering case. And this was one of the few avenues that Donald Trump had to try and derail it, the other avenue that

he's pressed in all four of these cases is to try and delay because he knows that once a jury is sworn in, testimony is taken in.

All four of these cases, he's going to be convicted. The odds are way against him of being exonerated for sure. And his only hope there is hoping

to get a hung jury in one of those cases.

SOLOMON: And, Nick, really quickly before I let you go, this case, the Georgia case was one of the few that might actually be televised for

everyone to see.

AKERMAN: It's the only one that's going to be televised. New York state does not permit cameras in the courtroom and the federal government in D.C.

and in Florida, they do not permit cameras in the courtroom. What we're trying to do is to get the actual transcripts, the daily official

transcripts of all of these proceedings released to the public as soon as the day is over. And I would encourage everybody to do what they can to try

and get that to happen in all four cases.

SOLOMON: Nick Akerman, so good to have your insights today, thank you so much. Thanks for the time.

AKERMAN: Thank you.

SOLOMON: OK. We're going to have more on this just after this break.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SOLOMON: Welcome back to CONNECT THE WORLD with me. I'm Rahel Solomon. We have some breaking news again.

A major ruling tied to the criminal case against Donald Trump in the state of Georgia. The judge there, Scott McAfee, announced a short time ago that

Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis is allowed to continue prosecuting Trump and his allies in the election interference racketeering

case with one pretty big condition.

The judge says that if Willis stays, well, then the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, who you see here with whom she had a personal relationship,

well, then he has to go. The judge also said that their relationship was a result of, quote, "bad choices."

I want to bring it now Larry Sabato. He is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Larry, so good to have you. Let me ask. This has to be -- how would you interpret this in terms of Donald Trump politically? Is this a small loss?

Is this a big loss? How would you interpret this in terms of the implications politically?

LARRY SABATO, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: I don't interpret it as a loss at all because Donald Trump will use this over and

over and over again. If you notice in his four cases catered around the country he has targeted the prosecutor in every single one of them, making

them into double-figures for his troops, for the millions of people in the Trump army who show up at rallies and vote for him and all the rest of it.

This will continue because it will, to some degree, make this trial seemed less important. Also, it adds delay. There is going to be an additional

delay because it gives Trump a chance here as in the other cases to stretch any verdicts passed in November 5th election day. That is all good for


SOLOMON: Larry, does this -- you know, so much about polling. You study it closer than most. Does this change things in terms of how he's viewed? His

base all along has remained with him. Those who are never Trumpers remain never Trumpers. Does this change things in a meaningful way you think?

SABATO: Here's what it changes. We're at a point where especially with respect to Donald Trump, everybody knows where they stand. How could you

not after all these years? It's a question of turnout. Who is more charged up? Which group wants to turn out at larger numbers to send a message?

Maybe about how unfair the system is being to Donald Trump, which has been his theme all along.

Decisions like the one reached in Georgia this morning, even though the trial will continue, these decisions help to goose the energy level of the

Trump supporters and that is very important in terms of politics. You know, I've listened to the legal analysts. I'm sure they're right. You know,

legally, this is not a great victory for Trump. It may appear so temporarily, but politically, it is a great victory for Trump. And he will

never stop using it.

SOLOMON: Fascinating. Larry, would you say, as I hear you say that it can really animate his basic and really animate people in terms of turnout, do

you find -- when you're looking at polling, do you find that people cite the criminal justice system as one of the things that they are most

passionate about?


Or, are there issues that maybe affect them more personally such as the economy or their feelings about immigration, which remains an issue in the

U.S.? What do you think?

SABATO: Oh, well, that all of them are important and they activate different kinds of people. But what Trump has done is to cultivate the

image, even as at least we think he's a billionaire, as a very wealthy, powerful person who's been president. Even though he has all of those

assets, he's cultivated the image of someone who's oppressed by the system. He uses this with minorities in the U.S. to appeal to minorities. I'm just

like you, I'm oppressed by the system which, you know, is kind of laughable, but a lot of people buy it.

And so that is what Trump will do. That's how he will twist the results. Immigration is a separate thing entirely. But of course it produces

millions of votes for him. The economy produces millions of votes for him. I'm not suggesting the election is over, I'm not suggesting that Joe Biden

can't come back and end up winning. We're a long way from the election day. I'm simply interpreting what happened today, and today was actually a good

day for Donald Trump.

SOLOMON: Wow, and Larry, just really quickly before I let you go, it is appearing in almost every case now that there may be even further delays,

including in the case in New York, which was scheduled to actually begin later this month in March. Now, both sides agree that they probably do need

a delay.

If Trump is not in a courtroom for trial, if no one of these cases go to trial before November, what impact do you think that that has in terms of

whatever happens in November?

SABATO: Well, it helps Trump, again, I hate to be a one-note samba here, but that basically is what's happening. If you don't have a guilty verdict

and maybe even if you do, it was his troops, but if you don't have a guilty verdict, it's hard to say definitively. You see, Donald Trump has been

guilty of very serious offenses of felonies. You can't have somebody like that in the Oval Office. Instead he continues with the line that's been so

successful for him.

I am being oppressed, and if they can do it to me, they can do it to you. The establishment is against us. We will defeat the establishment. He's

perfectly happy to run on that in addition to the economy and immigration. And so far it's been very helpful to him.

SOLOMON: Larry Sabato, so good to have you. Thank you for the time today.

SABATO: Thank you very much, Rahel.

SOLOMON: All right. Let's reset in case you're just tuning in. Major breaking news this morning. The judge in the case, Scott McAfee, this is

the Georgia election interference case in Fulton County, mincing no words in this ruling where he decided and ruled that the digital attorney, Fani

Willis, can remain on the case.

But in this ruling came very strong language. He wrote, in part, "The court therefore concludes that the prosecution of this case cannot proceed until

the state selects one of two options. The district attorney may choose to step aside along with the whole of her office and refer the prosecution to

the Prosecuting Attorney's Council for reassignment.

"Alternatively, SADA Wade can withdraw allowing the district attorney, the defendants, and the public to move forward without his presence or

renumeration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case." Obviously referring to Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor

here, who Fani Willis had appointed to the case.

Let's discuss this further and dive deeper with Michael Zeldin. He is a former federal prosecutor.

Michael, always good to talk to you on these huge legal days. If I remember correctly, you thought this might be the case that Fani Willis would not be

withdrawn from this case. Talk to me about your reactions to this ruling.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I thought it was a well-reasoned case that the judge put forth for her being to stay on and getting rid of

Wade. I think it's an advantage to the case that Wade be gone, that it is a distraction. And from what I can gather from friends in that area he's not

the strongest RICO prosecutor they have. So in some sense it advantages the case.

Willis, if I were in her position, I would not be the public face of this case anymore. She was never going to try it. But she sits there, glowering

in court, and making press statements. I think if I were her, I would recede into the background and try to get the temperature down in this

whole matter. The good news is her office can stay on the case if she elects to get rid of Wade, which she will, of course. And that the case can

now proceed.

So, you know, it's a good day in a sense for the prosecution team, even though they took their hits about unprofessional conduct in the like.

SOLOMON: Yes, I'm professional conduct or tremendous conduct, a tremendous lapse in judgment.

Michael, you know, we have the pleasure in this hour of having an international audience and I think it might be helpful to just explain what

made her comments so problematic according to the judge.


So unprofessional the comments at the AME Church, which I actually think we have. If we can, let's play that for a minute.

All right, we will work on getting that clip for all of our audience. But Michael, you have heard it. We have heard it. Why is that improper for the

face of the government to be making comments like that?

ZELDIN: So let's backup. Fani Willis is elected as D.A. She says in her election campaign that she is going to make it right with respect to the

people of Georgia and Donald Trump's interference with the free election. She gets elected on that platform. And in part, she indicts Donald Trump.

She brings on a prosecutor who then she has an affair with, when she's caught having that affair, which is not illegal by any means, she is

accused of malpractice, in a sense, and is asked to leave the case rather than respond in court initially to that. She goes to church and a largely

African-American church and accuses those who are asking him to step aside for this appearance of race and other allegations of impropriety, personal

impropriety on her part.

And the judge said, look, you know, you're the elected district attorney in this jurisdiction you shouldn't be in churches making political comments.

You should be in court responding to requests for discovery and other matters, and then you show up in court and you start attacking the people

who are bringing these legitimate charges. They had a right to bring these motions. And you come in here, you pranced into court.

You started accusing them of bad faith and bad behavior and pretending that there's not anything that she's done wrong. And the judge said, look,

enough of this, you can't go to church and make these comments. You can't come into this court and berate the lawyers and call them the criminals and

not her. And that's just unbecoming. And so that's where we are. And so he's saying you can't do but stuff.

It's unprofessional, it's unbecoming. It's beneath the dignity of this office and essentially cut it out. And in fact, we'll see whether or not

she's referred to the bar association for some sort of sanction with respect to her license. But he says it didn't rise to a conflict under

Georgia law. Instead, it created an appearance of conflict. And to get rid of that appearance, you've got to do one of two things.

You and your whole office are going to go or this prosecutor that you brought on, that you had this unfortunate sexual relationship with during

the course of this prosecution has to go. Take your choice. Well, obviously, he's going to choose to get rid of him and now I'm saying she

should step back and let somebody else be the face of this case.

SOLOMON: And then, Michael, really quickly before we go, just to take a one step further, it wasn't just the strong language from the judge. If I

remember correctly, he also said that he might consider a gag order which feels pretty usual for the prosecutor.

ZELDIN: Yes. Because she has politicized the case unduly and that all feeds into the narrative that Trump is out there on the political campaigns

saying this is a persecution of him, that he's being treated separately and worse than everybody else in a similar case. And all of that is for two

purposes. One, to gin up his base to come vote for him, and two, infect the jury pool so that you can get one juror perhaps who says, you know, not


And if you get in the United States, a non-unanimous verdict, then it's a hung jury and you have to try the case all over again. So there are two

things, one the political strategy and one is a legal strategy, get this case a hung jury, and then hope that they don't re-bring it.

SOLOMON: And Michael, I know I said last question the last time, but I promise this is actually the last question. Talk to me a little bit about

what --

ZELDIN: I'm all yours.

SOLOMON: As you talk about the jury pool, it just made me think about Fulton County is a blue county, is it not? I mean, is it more likely or

likely at all that perhaps they choose a jury pool that is not subject to as much media attention? I mean, it is making national mood as it is making

international news. But talk to me about the jury pool in Fulton County, that district and what you think sort of in that space.

ZELDIN: Yes. So Fulton County, Georgia, is where Atlanta is. Atlanta is the largest population center in Georgia. And it also is the most Democratic

and African-American part of Fulton County.


And so the perception is that a jury pool broadly speaking would be more favorable to Trump, than more rural district in Georgia. But the judge I

think is going to make every effort to keep the case in his jurisdiction, in Georgia, in Fulton County. But jury selection in this case could take

weeks to make sure that you have jurors who are coming to the case with an open-mind to make a decision on the evidence, and that's a really hard

thing to do in cases like this where there's so much pretrial publicity that people have lots of, you know, feelings about this.

The judge has the ability to move this case to another place before different jury pool, but this is such a national news sort of case. It's

almost impossible to find disinterested jury. And so I think we'll have it in Atlanta and they'll do the best they can to get as fair a jury as they


SOLOMON: Yes, which apparently they're moving toward. I mean, this case resumes presumably, and you know, we'll see sort of how it all develops in

the weeks and months ahead.

Michael Zeldin, former federal prosecutor, Michael, thank you so much. Good to have you.

ZELDIN: Thanks for having me.

SOLOMON: We're going to have more news after this quick break.


SOLOMON: Welcome back and recapping our breaking news out of the state of Georgia this morning.

Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee has now ruled that the district attorney, Fani Willis, is allowed to stay on the Donald Trump election interference

case. However, she can only stay if the special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, who you're seeing here with whom she had a personal relationship with,

steps aside. But Judge McAfee saying that Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices, even


Ryan Young is back with us now.

Ryan, I know you've had a little bit more time to really sort of get your arms around the ruling here and the decision here. Walk us through what

else is standing out to you.

YOUNG: Yes, this is really unreal when we think about all this and how the details have played out. One thing is for sure, Nathan Wade and Fani Willis

had a relationship. They went to Aruba together. They went to Miami together. They went to California. And basically what the defense did was

bring into question about how the money was being exchanged.

Nathan Wade has made a lot of money as a prosecutor of this case, some $650,000, and some people were trying to speculate whether or not the money

was directly benefiting Fani Willis. But as we saw and as she testified, anytime they would go on a trip, a lot of times, she would pay him back in


Now, we do have some of the statements from this decision from Scott McAfee. One thing that stands out to us on page 15 and 16, as this case

moves forward, reasonable members of the public could be easily left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some

form of benefit to the district attorney or even whether their romantic relationship has resumed.


Put differently, an outsider could reasonably think that a district attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment. So you

can see how the judge was trying to make sure that how the public even sees this. He believes the prosecution should be above board.

The other part that people have talked about is whether or not the race card could be played in this case. And obviously, when Fani Willis went to

a predominantly African-American church, she spoke from the pulpit, talking about the focus on black people. Take a listen.

SOLOMON: I think we're going to try to get that up for our audience.

YOUNG: Yes. Well, if we don't have that, I can move on to the next section.

SOLOMON: Well, Ryan, I have it. But let me -- I'll read it. I'm certainly no Fani Willis but I will read part of what she said. She said, "I hired

one white man, brilliant, my friend and a great lawyer, and I hired one black man, another superstar. A great friend and a great lawyer. First

thing they say, oh, she's going to play the race card now."

Go on, Ryan.

YOUNG: Yes. And this goes into the fact that you could see the judge is talking about the decision-making involved in this case and whether or not

they're going to actually make sure there's a gag order in this case. So people can't talk about this publicly. I saw your last segment. There was a

conversation about whether or not she should sort of move into the shadows, so to speak, and let this case play out.

What we do know is there will be no news conference today to address all the things that happened. Something else that stood out to us was the fact

that the judge was also talking about the poor decision-making. On page nine, if someone was looking this up, without sufficient evidence that the

district attorney acquired a personal stake in the prosecution or that her financial arrangements had any impact on the case.

Defendants' claims of an actual conflict of must be denied. This finding is by no means an indication that the court condones this tremendous lapse in

judgment or the unprofessional manner of the district attorney's testimony. There was even talk about how she testified there in court, and sometimes

it got quite contentious in that courtroom.

I can remember Fani Willis sitting there in court and basically say, I'm not the one who's on trial, these people who broke the law, in her words,

should be the one who's on trial. So you put all this together, is played out in Fulton County, the eyes of the world were paying attention to this

and this racketeering case that had so many people involved, and you have to remember this is where Donald Trump was brought in to the jail. There

was a mug shot taken. So many questions about how this moves forward.

And all this to stay, you can understand, Steve Sadow has come out with a statement from Donald Trump's lawyers and basically he says, while

respecting the court's decision, we believe that the court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and

Wade, including the financial benefits testifying on truthfully about when their personal relationship began, as well as Willis MLK church speech

where she sprayed the race card and falsely accused the defendants and their counsel of racism.

So you can understand the impact of this because there's so much conversation, especially in Fulton County where people are paying attention

to this case as this moves forward, obviously, we're trying to get all the people who are involved in this to get in front of the camera to talk to us

about their opinion. But you can see Scott McAfee with his decision. Fani Willis gets to stay if Nathan Wade leaves. So, so much more to play out.

Who takes the mantle next? Because obviously other people were offered this case. It did not want to try it, so we'll see how this moves board.

SOLOMON: And Ryan, I'll just add to that, who takes the mantle and critically when? When do they take the mantle? When does this move forward,

which so many people are sort of anxiously waiting for?

Ryan Young, we'll leave it here. Thanks so much for hopping on.

YOUNG: Sure thing.

SOLOMON: We continue this conversation now with Amy Lee Copeland. She's a criminal defense attorney.

Welcome to the conversation, Amy. Let me ask if you were representing Trump, if you were on his defense team, how would you use this ruling in

his favor?

AMY LEE COPELAND, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good morning. As a procedural matter, I would seek a certificate of immediate review. That is a Georgia

provision for kind of an intermediate appeal. If Judge McAfee were to grant it, if the Trump team could convince him that there was enough of a

conflict in the law that an immediate appeal was required, then that grant of a certificate of immediate review followed by an acceptance by a Georgia

appellate court would significantly delay these proceedings.

It would tie it up until the end of December under the courts rules of how long they have to resolve appeals. So that would be the first thing I would

try to capitalize on as a procedural mechanism to bring even more delay to this case.

SOLOMON: And what about the language? How much would you lean into, if at all, of the language that the judge included in this decision about the

unprofessional conduct, the tremendous lapse in judgment. Is that more just salacious detail, interesting commentary, or cannot be used by his team?

COPELAND: So judges have almost unfettered discretion to make findings of fact. In other words, they're the ones that get to judge the credibility of



And so Judge McAfee acknowledged that there were some problems that he had with some of the testimony. Grave problems with some of the DA's behavior,

frankly, in her testimony on the stand. Nonetheless, he still credits their testimony as being truthful, largely the DA's testimony particularly. That

would be a difficult finding for Trumps team to challenge. Instead, he would be much safer on it trying to get an intermediate appeal if he

challenged the legal basis for the judge's ruling.

SOLOMON: Fascinating. So much to watch, even with the decision that we had been waiting weeks for. Still a lot of questions about what happens next.

Who would, what happens with in terms of the prosecutor, the lead prosecutor, and when.

Amy Lee Copeland, so good to have you today. Thanks for the insights.

COPELAND: Thank you.

SOLOMON: And thanks for being here today. That is it for CONNECT THE WORLD. Stay with CNN. NEWSROOM is coming up next in a few minutes.