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Trump appeals ruling that allowed DA Fani Willis to stay on Georgia election interference case

Michael M. Santiago / Staff/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump and several of his co-defendants on Friday filed their appeal of the disqualification ruling that allowed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to remain on the Georgia election interference case.

The motion from Trump and others to the Georgia Court of Appeals argues that Judge Scott McAfee “erred as a matter of law by not requiring dismissal and DA Willis’ disqualification.”

“This legal error requires the Court’s immediate review,” the 51-page filing states.

The appeal came from Trump and co-defendants including Michael Roman, Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, and Jeffrey Clark as part of their ongoing effort to have the Fulton County indictment dismissed and Willis and her entire office removed from the case.

Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor in the Fulton County election interference case, resigned as special prosecutor on March 15, hours after McAfee issued his ruling that either Willis or Wade must step aside from the case due to a “significant appearance of impropriety” stemming from a romantic relationship between the DA and the prosecutor.

A three-judge panel will now be randomly assigned to review the appeal application and determine whether or not to take it up. A staff attorney will also make a recommendation, but the panel has the ultimate say.

The court has 45 days to issue its decision. Only one of the three judges has to vote yes in order for them to take up the appeal.

Friday’s defense filing urges the appeals court to take up their application for a number of reasons, including that McAfee’s order allegedly contained a “plain legal error” by finding Willis’ actions created an appearance of impropriety but not requiring her disqualification.

“The trial court was bound by existing case law to not only require Wade’s disqualification (which occurred) but also to require the disqualification of DA Willis and her entire office,” the filing argues. “The trial court’s failure to do so is plain legal error requiring reversal.”

Even though Wade has resigned, argues the filing, the case carries forward an appearance of impropriety “as long as [Willis] and her office remain involved.”

Willis’ disqualification “is the minimum that must be done to remove the stain of her legally improper and plainly unethical conduct from the remainder of the case,” the filing argues.

The filing also highlights many of McAfee’s critical statements in his ruling, including that a speech Willis made at church was “legally improper”; that an “odor of mendacity” lingers in the case; and that there were “reasonable questions about whether the District Attorney and her hand-selected SADA testified truthfully.”

Chris Timmons, a former Georgia prosecutor who is now an ABC News contributor, said that in a normal scenario he would not think the court would grant the appeal. But, he said, “this case is high profile and political, so they might.”

“The law of disqualification is well-settled, and the judge has a ton of discretion in making findings and crafting remedies in that area,” Timmons said. “So that should mean no appeal. But I’ve seen appellate courts create new law in political cases.”

Trump and 18 others pleaded not guilty last August to all charges in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. Four of Trump’s co-defendants subsequently took plea deals in exchange for agreeing to testify against other defendants.

Judge McAfee said last week he would keep moving forward with the case while Trump and his co-defendants pursue their appeal.

“The Court intends to continue addressing the many other unrelated pending pretrial motions, regardless of whether the petition is granted within 45 days of filing, and even if any subsequent appeal is expedited by the appellate court,” the judge said.

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