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A new clue in the Fani Willis investigation

Willis' latest motion appears ominous for a pair of defense lawyers — and signals accelerating accountability for fake elector ringleaders.

One of the many unusual features of Donald Trump’s endless head-on collisions with the rule of law is the collateral damage done to lawyers. The latest example is Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ motion to disqualify one of the attorneys representing 10 of the Georgia fake electors tied up in the investigation into efforts to subvert the will of voters. The motion’s claims appear ominous for the defense lawyers involved — and signal accelerating accountability for fake elector ringleaders.

The motion’s claims appear ominous for the defense lawyers involved — and signal accelerating accountability for fake elector ringleaders.

Willis’ motion is based upon new interviews with some of the fake electors in the presence of their lawyer Kimberly Debrow. Several of these electors apparently alleged that another fake elector represented by Debrow had committed further (unspecified) violations of Georgia law. The motion also alleges that Debrow failed to communicate an immunity offer to the group, despite her former co-counsel Holly Pierson’s representation to the court that it had been communicated. 

The motion suggests Willis is willing to offer immunity to some or even most of the fake electors. That is consistent with what we already know; the conclusion that a small subset was principally responsible for the election fraud scheming was also the view of the Jan. 6 House committee. Its report highlights, for example, testimony from Georgia Trump campaign official Robert Sinners claiming that most of the fake electors were treated as “useful idiots or rubes.”

All of this is good news for innocent electors. The revelations in the motion seem to be positive for Willis as well, because they suggest electors are already working with her to build her case. And the more blameless they are, the better. (This situation may also help explain the delay in bringing charges, despite Willis saying months ago a decision was "imminent.")

The motion is not such good news for the fake elector who allegedly committed an as-yet-unrevealed “further crime.” It’s not clear whether that possible offense relates to the fake electoral slates or something else. In either event, the development could serve as an important breakthrough for the district attorney. When a prosecutor has that kind of proof with a culpable party, they are better able to negotiate cooperation. Instead of offering immunity and hoping for assent, for example, Willis can push for a plea deal with the credible threat of prosecution.  

Nor is the motion encouraging for Trump. Willis appears to be gathering momentum. Trump already faces prosecution in New York and, once Willis secures her cooperators, a Georgia indictment may not be far behind.

But perhaps the biggest loser is Debrow. Failing to communicate an offer of immunity to a client is a serious violation of professional ethics. And if she played a part in her co-counsel Pierson’s alleged misrepresentations to the court, that would be a serious matter as well. (Of course, none of this makes Pierson look good either. She may well be facing her own ethics investigation, especially if she knowingly made a false statement to the court. Judges look askance at this kind of thing, as we just saw from the reprimand doled out in Delaware to the lawyers for Fox.)

Debrow has strongly denied the allegations and has issued a statement calling the claims “baseless, false and offensive,” and further describing the investigation as “politically motivated.” She also said she has recordings that will support her position. Like Debrow, Pierson has also categorically denied the allegations and has said she can prove she is right.

If Willis prevails on the motion, Debrow will likely have to stop representing some of her elector clients. All state attorney’s codes of ethics, including Georgia’s, prohibit lawyers from representing a client “if there is a significant risk that the lawyer’s own interests or the lawyer’s duties to another client, a former client, or a third person will materially and adversely affect the representation of the client.” 

It seems clear that, in the criminal context especially, a lawyer would face an impossible task of serving each of their clients’ interests if one or more of those clients is a cooperating witness against another. In fact, Georgia’s rules state that the potential for conflicts of interest in this type of scenario “is so grave that ordinarily a lawyer should decline to represent” more than one party.

This is just the latest example of lawyers tied to the Trump probes being accused of potential wrongdoing.

Indeed, if Willis proves her claims, Debrow may be compelled by ethical considerations to step down from representing any of the electors, given “there is a serious possibility of future ethical problems concerning confidentiality of information obtained in the course of her representation thus far.”

This is just the latest example of lawyers tied to the Trump probes being accused of potential wrongdoing. Thankfully, prosecutors and the courts are well equipped to handle these problems as they arise. Willis has done just that here and — given Judge Robert McBurney’s careful consideration of the case thus far — we are confident that he will get to the bottom of the matter. Justice demands nothing less.