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- A Trump TV ad said Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis “got caught hiding a relationship with a gang member she was prosecuting.” This distorts comments in a Rolling Stone article that did not show an affair.
- The ad wrongly blames Willis for a rise in murders during her tenure, ignoring that the rise started before she took office. This year, murders are on track to decline in Atlanta.
- A judge said that Willis could not investigate one of the fake electors because she held a fundraiser for his opponent.
As Donald Trump braces for an indictment from a Fulton County grand jury, his campaign rolled out an attack against District Attorney Fani Willis, the official leading the investigation into Trump’s actions in Georgia after the 2020 election.
The ad makes multiple attacks against the "fraud squad" of prosecutors who have charged Trump from New York, Washington, D.C., and now potentially Georgia. Willis took office Jan. 1, 2021, a day before Trump’s infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump sought to "find" enough ballots to win the state.
The campaign said the ad will air in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York, and nationally on cable and broadcast.
Willis addressed the ad in an email to her staff, saying it contained "derogatory and false information" without elaborating. A Fulton County grand jury is expected to indict Trump, and potentially Trump allies, this month for actions intended to subvert 2020 election results.
We fact-checked four of the ad’s claims about Willis that were missing context, misleading or baseless.
This lacks evidence. The ad doesn’t explain the nature of the "relationship"; it’s possible a viewer would infer a romantic relationship. Trump said as much Aug. 8 in a speech, accusing Willis of "having an affair with the head of the gang or a gang member." There’s no proof of that.
As the narrator made the claim, the ad displays text: "Willis was a lawyer for a YSL co-founder." It cites a Rolling Stone article in January that included an interview with YSL Mondo, who co-founded the Young Stoner Life music label.
When Willis was a defense attorney in 2019, she represented YSL Mondo in an aggravated assault case. Later as district attorney, she prosecuted Young Thug, an associate of YSL Mondo, and other defendants, alleging they had affiliations with gang violence.
YSL Mondo told Rolling Stone that he and Willis had a "cool relationship" and said, "I done had auntie-to-nephew, mother-to-son type of talks with her."
Mondo described Willis as a "great attorney" and recounted the final advice Willis gave to him: "She was like ‘don’t mess my name up now.’ You know I am about to get ready to run for this head DA. You f--- around and do something else, I am going to sock it to your a--."
Willis told Rolling Stone in an email that "I think I can say I liked him. I hope all is well … I advocated for him with zeal. I tend to meet my clients where they are. I hope you understand what that means. I want to see him do amazing things with his life, and I hope that’s where he’s headed."
Nothing in the Rolling Stone article points to romance or a "hidden" relationship.
The ad cited a July 2022 New York Times article about Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney barring Willis from investigating state Republican Sen. Burt Jones, one of her targets in the Trump probe, because she headlined a June 2022 fundraiser for his Democratic opponent.
In his written ruling, McBurney said her actions raised "reasonable concerns of politically motivated prosecution."
"I use that phrase, ‘What were you thinking?" McBurney said in court. "The optics are horrific."
Jones, now Georgia’s lieutenant governor, was one of 16 pro-Trump "fake electors" who signed a certificate in December 2020 falsely saying Trump won Georgia.
The judge wrote that any decision about whether to charge Jones would need to be left to a different prosecutor’s office.
This claim is misleading because a judge denied the related motion. It comes from an allegation by a defense attorney that pertains to a subpoena issued before the time Willis was the district attorney.
As the narrator speaks, the ad displays, "Fani Willis accused of ‘prosecutorial misconduct,’" with a citation of attorney Brian Steel.
Steel, who represents Young Thug, filed a motion in November to dismiss all charges alleging abuse of power by the prosecution. Steel claimed the Fulton County district attorney’s office used a sham grand jury subpoena in 2016 to forcibly compel Hertz Corp. to hand over information on the car Young Thug rented. Prosecutors alleged that the rental car was used in the killing of Donovan Thomas Jr., a gang rival.
The defense claimed the subpoena was not issued or authorized by a judge, clerk of court or grand jury; instead, it was created by the prosecution with an affixed seal.
Willis took office as district attorney in 2021, five years after the subpoena was filed. But Steel filed the motion in 2022, so Willis had to respond.
In December, Judge Ural Glanville denied Steel’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the defendant "has not shown misconduct warranting the extreme sanctions he demands."
This number cherry-picks a small slice of Willis’ district attorney tenure and wrongly blames her for an increase in murders.
The trend started during the pandemic, before Willis was district attorney.
In 2023, murders in Atlanta are on track to decline. There have been 73 homicides this year through early August, compared with 97 for the same time period last year.
The ad samples a timeframe during which the violence rate increased across the country, said Volkan Topalli, a Georgia State University criminology professor.
"The increase in the homicide rate has been attributed to many things during the period in question, but fundamentally, it was caused by the disruption in crime patterns due to stay-at-home order plus the police accountability movement plus mass retirements in law enforcement, which accelerated during the pandemic," Topalli said in an email.
If Trump wants to blame Willis for the increase in violence during the first part of her tenure, he should give her credit for the drop that took place later, Topalli said.
Dean Dabney, chair of Georgia State University’s criminology department, said attacking Willis for the rising murder rate during the pandemic would be "akin to blaming Trump for the economy during COVID."
Staff Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article.
State of Georgia v Jeffrey Williams, Motion to dismiss. Nov. 3, 2022
State of Georgia v. Jeffrey Williams, State’s response in opposition to defendant’s motion to dismiss, Nov. 14, 2022
State of Georgia v. Jeffrey Williams, Order denying defendant’s motion to dismiss, Dec. 21, 2022
Donald Trump, Truth Social post, August 4, 2023
Rolling Stone, Fani Willis was a defense lawyer for YSL co-founder. He says she’s not who she seems, January 25, 2023
AP News, Judge: Georgia probe prosecutor can’t question state senator, July 25, 2022
New York Times, Prosecutor is barred from pursuing criminal case against Trump ally, July 25, 2022
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ‘Derogatory and false’: Fulton DA denies rumors circulated by Trump, Aug. 9, 2023
11 Alive, Atlanta Police chief says targeting gang members, drug dealers helped bring homicide rate down, July 3, 2023
NBC, Trump is running a TV ad criticizing the DA investigating him, Aug. 9, 2023
Medium Buying, X post, August 8, 2023
No Jumper Clips, YSL Co-Founder Reveals That Fani Willis Used To Be His Defense Lawyer, 2023
Trump campaign, Statement to PolitiFact, Aug 9, 2023
Fani Willi email to staff, August 9, 2023
Georgia Public Radio, Judge disqualifies Fulton DA from investigating GOP lieutenant governor nominee in election probe, July 25, 2022
Email interview, Volkan Topalli, criminology professor at Georgia State University, Aug. 9, 2023
Telephone interview, Dean Dabney, chair of the criminology department at Georgia State University, Aug. 9, 2023