April 19, 2024

Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta district attorney leading an election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump and 14 of his allies, said on Tuesday that a trial would very likely “not conclude until the winter or the very early part of 2025.”

She also defended the scope of the racketeering indictment she brought in August, noting that she had prosecuted far larger racketeering cases in her career. Defendants in such cases “got involved in the criminal enterprise,” she said. “They deserve to be charged. In fact, they earned it.”

Ms. Willis’s office charged Mr. Trump and 18 other defendants with participating in a criminal enterprise aimed at changing the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Four of the defendants have already taken plea deals, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Her comments, at a women’s conference held by The Washington Post, came as her office sought an emergency protective order banning the release of discovery materials in the Georgia case. On Monday, videos of private testimony from the defendants who have entered into plea agreements were leaked to several news outlets; Ms. Willis’s office said it did not leak the videos, which it had shared with defense lawyers.

Judge Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court scheduled a hearing on the request for Wednesday.

In one of the videos, obtained by ABC News, Jenna Ellis, a former Trump campaign lawyer who pleaded guilty to a felony charge last month, said she was told in December 2020 by one of Mr. Trump’s longtime aides that he was refusing to leave the White House “under any circumstances” despite losing the election.

In another, first reported by The Post, Kenneth Chesebro, another lawyer who worked with the Trump campaign, disclosed to prosecutors that he met with the president in the White House in mid-December 2020. Mr. Chesebro also discussed a memo he had drafted shortly after the election saying that Jan. 6, 2021, was the “real deadline for settling a state’s electoral votes.”

In the weeks after Mr. Chesebro wrote the memo, the Trump administration deployed fake electoral voters in swing states as part of a plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to not certify the election results on Jan. 6.

At the conference on Tuesday, Ms. Willis was asked if it was surprising that the videos had been leaked.

“Surprising no, disappointing yes,” she said, adding that such statements — known as “proffers” — from defendants who had pleaded guilty helped prosecutors make their case against more prominent defendants “up the ladder.”

“The D.A. in Fulton County always wants to get to the top of the ladder,” she said, speaking in general terms, but also very likely alluding to Mr. Trump.

Steve Sadow, Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer in Georgia, dismissed the contents of the videos on Monday, saying that “the only salient fact to this nonsense line of inquiry is that President Trump left the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, and returned to Mar-a-Lago.”

Ted Goodman, a spokesman for Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and a defendant in the case, said Ms. Willis’s suggestion that a trial would stretch into 2025 “just further demonstrates how this entire fraudulent case is part of the Democrat Party and permanent political class’s attempt to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2024.”

Ms. Willis, in her comments on Tuesday, said that she knew when she began the investigation that she would be threatened. But she has been surprised by the number of threats against her — more than 100, she said, many of them racist.

Did I suspect that when the threats came, so many of them, the nature of them would be so racist and that this country still had that much kind of venom for just the fact that I was a Black woman?” she said. “In the last three years, I’ve been called the N-word so many times I couldn’t even think to count how many times.”

“We’re going to keep doing business as usual,” she said. But she added that she now had so much security that she could not easily go out for a casual drink with friends.

She declined to comment when asked if there had been “meaningful contact” between her office and Jack Smith’s, the special prosecutor appointed by the Justice Department who is leading two other criminal cases against Mr. Trump.

Ms. Willis, an elected Democrat, insisted that she was not a partisan, as Mr. Trump and some other conservatives had portrayed her. She described herself as a law-and-order district attorney.

“I am a prosecutor’s prosecutor,” she said. “I will put you in jail for life and have a real good night’s sleep about it.”

Christian Boone contributed reporting from Georgia.

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