Who is Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor taking on Donald Trump?

Atlanta, Georgia - Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the prosecutor spearheading the case against Donald Trump for alleged racketeering and election wrongdoing in Georgia, kept observers in suspense before the late-night bombshell: 13 felony counts against the former president.

Ex-President Donald Trump has been hit with 13 felony counts by Fulton County DA Fani Willis as part of an investigation into election wrongdoing in Georgia.
Ex-President Donald Trump has been hit with 13 felony counts by Fulton County DA Fani Willis as part of an investigation into election wrongdoing in Georgia.  © Collage: Stefani Reynolds / AFP & JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Willis, who is in her early 50s, is described as strict and ambitious – and she has said herself that failure is not an option.

The Democrat took up her post on January 1, 2021 as the first woman elected as district attorney for Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. She very quickly had to make a decision whether to take aim at the former Republican president.

Trump had made what is now an infamous phone call to Georgia's secretary of state, who is responsible for ensuring the sanctity of elections, asking Brad Raffensperger to "find" just the number of votes that would reverse Joe Biden's victory in the Peach State.

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That was the starting point for what is now the fourth criminal indictment targeting the 77-year-old Trump since March.

"My career has taught me, no matter the political pressure, just do what's right," Willis said after winning office.

"And no matter if you were at the state Capitol or the slums, you will be held accountable if you commit a crime in my community."

What is Fani Willis' background?

Willis has been described as ambitious, strict, and "a pit bull" in her prosecutorial work.
Willis has been described as ambitious, strict, and "a pit bull" in her prosecutorial work.  © CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA / AFP

Born in California and raised in the Washington DC, Willis has long been immersed in the legal world.

Her father, a lawyer who once belonged to the Black Panthers, often brought her to court in the 1980s, at the height of DC's crack epidemic.

She told The New York Times that at the tender age of eight, she was "putting his criminal files together" on drug and murder cases.

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Far from repulsing her, the atmosphere illuminated a career path for her: she studied at Howard University, the storied predominantly Black college in Washington, and then got her law degree at Emory University in Georgia.

She opened her own practice before moving to the district attorney's office in Fulton County.

From Young Thug to Donald Trump

Willis has a penchant for tackling complex cases, including a cheating scandal in Atlanta's public schools, murders and gang conspiracies like the one ensnaring rapper Young Thug.

She has targeted both Trump and Young Thug for violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act – usually used to prosecute organized crime cases.

"She is a pit bull," longtime Atlanta homicide detective Vince Velazquez, who worked frequently with Willis, told The Washington Post.

"If I committed a crime, I would not want to be prosecuted by Fani Willis."

What has Donald Trump said about Fani Willis?

Trump has disparaged Willis at every opportunity, accusing her of corruption and even racism.
Trump has disparaged Willis at every opportunity, accusing her of corruption and even racism.  © STEFANI REYNOLDS / AFP

Trump, as he often does with his adversaries, has conjured up a nickname for her: "Phoney Fani".

He has reserved a barrage of pejorative adjectives for her on his Truth Social platform: "severely underperforming," "very corrupt," "out of control," and even "RACIST."

Trump said Willis had "campaigned and raised money on, 'I will get Trump'" – and even suggested at a campaign rally that she had an affair with a gang member.

Willis, who says she has received death threats and often travels with a security detail, has remained composed throughout and said she is confident in her work.

"I refuse to fail," the mother of two, who gets to the office at 6:30 AM every morning for a regular 12-hour day, told The Wall Street Journal.

Cover photo: Collage: Stefani Reynolds / AFP & JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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