A judge in Fulton County, Ga., has granted a motion by a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from targeting him in her criminal probe into former President Donald Trump and allies’ efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election .
Judge Robert McBurney on Monday barred Willis from building a case against Burt Jones, a state senator running for lieutenant governor of Georgia, after the district attorney hosted a fundraiser backing Democratic candidate Charlie Bailey in his runoff race against another Democratic challenger who ultimately lost, Kwanza Hall.
McBurney said it was “harmful” to the integrity of the investigation that Willis had taken part in the fundraiser.
“Any decision the district attorney makes about Senator Jones in connection with the grand jury investigation is necessarily infected by it,” the judge wrote, adding that any effort to focus specifically on Jones in the investigation, even if justified, would prompt “entirely reasonable concerns of politically motivated persecution.”
Willis’ interest in Jones stems from the efforts of some state Republicans after the 2020 election to create an alternate slate of 16 presidential electors even after an official vote count showed Trump had lost by thousands of votes. Jones is one of the “fake voters” named as a target in the investigation.
The judge noted that an additional decision by Willis to donate privately to Bailey’s campaign was not disqualifying in itself, as Jones’ counsel had argued, but said the move had “added to the weight of the conflict created by the more extensive, direct, public and job-related campaign work the district attorney performed on behalf of candidate Bailey.”
“This choice — which the district attorney was within her rights as an elected official to make — has consequences. She had bestowed her office’s imprimatur upon Senator Jones’s opponent,” he added.
A special grand jury that agreed in January began receiving evidence in the probe last month, and Willis has issued subpoenas to at least a dozen of the false electors, including Jones. He joined 11 of the fake electors in filing a motion to quash their grand jury subpoenas. While Jones’ motion to disqualify Willis from investigating him was granted by McBurney, the judge denied the effort to bar Willis from investigating the others.
McBurney said his decision means Willis cannot subpoena Jones, publicly categorize him as a target, or ask the grand jury to include recommendations about him in their final report. While Willis can gather evidence of Jones’ involvement in efforts to undermine the 2020 election results, she cannot use such evidence to build a case against Jones, the judge said.
“That decision, as to whether any charges should be brought, and what they should be, will be left to a different prosecutor’s office, as determined by the attorney general,” McBurney wrote.
NBC News has reached out to Willis’ office for comment.