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Howard alumna and Legal Trailblazer Fani Willis Leads Prosecution of Donald Trump 

Fani Willis, Howard alumna and district attorney of Fulton County, brought charges against former president Donald Trump as he began his 2024 presidential campaign.

Fani Willis has been practicing law for 27 years. Willis’ career in law began when she joined Howard University as a political science major. Photo courtesy of @FultonCountyDA/X.

Donald Trump, former U.S. president, was indicted on 13 criminal charges related to interference in the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia as reported by The Washington Post last month. Fulton County District Attorney and Howard University alumna Fani Willis filed the indictment which contained 41 criminal counts related to election interference against 19 defendants, including Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Although a local prosecutor charging a former president with election interference is unprecedented in U.S. history, some members of the Howard community believe Willis’ legal experience as an attorney, district judge and prosecutor has prepared her for the challenges affiliated with Trump’s investigation.

“Our [criminal] justice system often favors political officials, especially former presidents, as opposed to certain marginalized groups of people,” Howard professor and criminal defense attorney Angela D. Minor, Esq. said.

On Thursday, Aug. 24, Trump surrendered to the Fulton County Jail, where his mug shot was taken before he was released on bond. Willis has filed a request for the former president’s trial to begin on Oct. 23, as Trump continues his 2024 presidential campaign. 

While Trump has faced numerous other criminal charges and prosecution in other districts, some experts believe Willis may have the key to holding him accountable. Moreover, conspiracy and racketeering charges present a disproportionate difficulty when compiling evidence compared to other crimes. 

“In this instance, it wasn’t that Trump was arrested based on something he did that was blatantly criminal,” Keesha Middlemass, an associate professor of political science at Howard, said.

“The prosecutorial office in Fulton County had to find evidence that needed to be subpoenaed and that requires court permission,” Middlemass said.

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Minor believes Trump’s recent indictment will be his most challenging obstacle as it reflects a president who sought to destroy the most fundamental component of democracy—the right to vote. 

“Election fraud and interference, along with the other criminal indictments, leaves Donald Trump with an unprecedented mark of political crimes that will be overwhelmingly difficult to withstand at trial,” Minor said.

Throughout the Trump investigation and following the indictment, Willis received consistent racist backlash according to BBC News. Hours after she released the charges, Trump posted on his social media platform Truth Social, calling the lead prosecutor a euphemism for the n-word as reported by The Guardian.

Like other state prosecutors and district attorneys who have investigated Trump, such as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Willis is African-American. Trump’s allusion to the racial slur incited his far-right racist supporters to threaten Willis and her office as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Hilltop reached out to Willis and the Fulton District Attorney Office for a comment multiple times, but no response was given in time for publication. 

“Because she is a Black woman, there is going to be an extra level of scrutiny,” Richard Jones, a freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina, said. “She is taking on someone that is powerful and that automatically makes her a threat.” 

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Nevertheless, Willis has presented a legally compelling case against Trump and his co-defendants with strong evidence according to Politico. Willis has garnered cooperation from eight Republican activists who falsely claimed to be Georgia’s presidential electors and found that Trump’s efforts to change the 2020 election results in Georgia were based in blatant fabrications.

Both Minor and Middlemass explained that the indictment in the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump has many layers. 

“District Attorney Willis revealed that she has evidence of data breaches and copying of data software from voting machines by individuals with close ties to former president Donald Trump. That evidence may prove to be invaluable during this trial,” Minor said.

Despite the racist backlash, Willis remains determined to hold Trump and the other 18 members of the indictment accountable for the alleged conspiracy. Howard faculty and alumni hope students learn from her persistence and unwavering commitment to justice.

“I hope that political science majors and other students at Howard will see themselves in her and then go off to become great prosecutors and defense attorneys in the future,” Middlemass said. 

Willis’ time at Howard provided an unbreakable foundation, which would ultimately be essential for her career and current legal battle as she leads the State of Georgia’s prosecution and charges against former president Donald Trump.

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“The history of the Political Science Department at Howard really does instill not just knowledge and content, but also the willingness to battle institutions,” Middlemass said. 

DA Willis represents the trailblazing legacy of Howard alumni, especially within the fields of law and public service. Willis graduated from Howard University in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. She later graduated from Emory University School of Law in 1996. 

“Howard breeds African American leaders with formidable grace and unwavering fearlessness to stand against any injustice,” Minor said.

Following her impressive academic achievements, Fani Willis began exercising her Howard-grown passion for serving her Georgia community as a private criminal defense and family law attorney. In 2001, she was appointed as the assistant district attorney for Fulton County. 

Twenty years later, Fani Willis became Fulton County’s first female district attorney, unseating the six-term Democratic incumbent Paul Howard by securing a 73 percent% vote as reported by The Guardian. Willis’ victory came at a time of national unrest, when Fulton County had been slammed with controversies and county residents desired a change in the district attorney’s DA office.

For 17 years, Willis served as the Deputy District Attorney of Fulton County. According to The 74, one of her most notorious cases includes the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal of 2009. DA Willis is also responsible for the current RICO case against rapper Young Thug.

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DA Willis stands alongside another Howard alumni who has gone on to serve the U.S. state and local government in Georgia. State Representative Inga Willis is also a Howard alumna and a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, who represents District 55. 

“Howard provided me with the undergirding of equal tenacity and acumen. As an alum, a life of greater service is truly a love letter to HU,” Inga Willis told The Hilltop, expressing her appreciation for her enrollment at Howard University. “We are extremely grateful that the current Bison are preparing to globally lead in truth and service. We need each and every one of you.” 

“Looking around my city and state and seeing the fruit of Howard firmly planted on the frontlines of necessary change is our normal,” Inga Willis said. “We expect greatness and are prepared for battle, protected by our ancestors and trained for the light. This is what we do,” she concluded. 

Copy edited by Diamond Hamm

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