Fani Willis skips primary debate with Democratic challenger

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) skipped the county’s first Democratic Party debate Sunday, leaving her challenger to debate an empty podium.

The debate, held by the Atlanta Press Club, featured Willis’s Democratic challenger — attorney and author Christian Wise Smith — standing alone on the stage.

After a brief introduction about Smith, the debate moderator said Willis “declined to participate in the debate and is represented by an empty podium.”

Willis, who is bringing a sprawling election interference case against former President Trump and his allies, instead co-hosted Atlanta’s “Self Care Fair,” which is held every year in honor of Crime Victims’ Rights Week, FOX 5 Atlanta reported. The Hill reached out to Willis’s office for further comment.

Her reelection campaign told Atlanta News First earlier this month that Willis is “not doing interviews that include discussion of the substance of high-profile cases the office is prosecuting, particularly the election interference prosecution and the ongoing trial of alleged YSL defendants,” in reference to the ongoing trial of rapper Young Thug and his associates.

During what would have been the debate round that allowed candidates to ask each other questions, the moderator allowed Smith to pose his own question to Willis and provide a rebuttal of how he believes she would answer it.

“My question for you is: Where are you? You know I’m here because I care about the citizens and the families of Fulton County,” Smith said. “But it’s my understanding that you may have attended the White House correspondents’ dinner. You might be fundraising across the country, but what about us here in the Fulton County? What are you doing to address the issues in the jail? What are you doing to address the backlog? Where are you, Ms. Willis?”

Asked if he had a rebuttal, Smith said he cannot speak for Willis, but “her absence is all the response that we need.”

He also took aim at the controversy sparked by Willis’s once-romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade, who resigned from the Trump case in March following a judge’s ruling.

Judge Scott McAfee ruled last month that the relationship between Willis and Wade constituted an appearance of conflict of interest in Willis’s racketeering case against Trump. Willis was allowed to remain on the case if Wade departed. Trump and eight of his co-defendants have appealed McAfee’s choice to let her do so.

When asked if he will continue pursuing Willis’s case against Trump and using the state’s racketeering law, Smith responded, “That issue is important to us here in Fulton County and a lot of people across the country.”

“We all heard the call, we all saw what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, but you have to do things differently,” he continued. “When you pay one attorney nearly a million dollars to handle one case, that leaves the rest of us vulnerable. That hurts everyone else in Fulton County.”

The motion to disqualify Willis from the case alleged Wade’s relationship with the DA allowed him to financially benefit from his employment.

Smith ran against Willis four years ago and lost. The two will face off in a primary May 21. Courtney Kramer, who said she interned in the White House counsel’s office under Trump for three months in 2018, was the only Republican to qualify by the deadline, The Associated Press reported.

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