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Trump campaign ad makes false claims against Atlanta DA

“Biden’s newest lackey: Atlanta DA Fani Willis”

— Voice-over in Donald Trump campaign ad, released Aug. 4

Unlike many criminal defendants, former president Donald Trump is not shy about attacking prosecutors who have brought charges against him. His presidential campaign is airing this television ad, which attacks the three prosecutors who have charged him with felonies, as well as New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who has sued the Trump family and the Trump Organization on charges they engaged in widespread fraud. The ad includes Trump’s voice at the end saying, “I’m Donald J. Trump and I approve this message.”

Most of the prosecutors get just one-line attacks. More than half of the 60-second ad focuses on Willis (D), the district attorney for Georgia’s Fulton County. Willis charged Trump with seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, according to an indictment unveiled Monday night after a 2½-year investigation.

The Trump campaign provided The Fact Checker with the source material for the claims, with Trump spokesman Steven Cheung saying “the ad cleared legal from all the networks.” But upon inspection, three of the four claims made in the ad fall apart pretty quickly. Here’s our assessment of the statements, in the order they appear in the ad. After the ad appeared, Willis sent an email to her staff saying it contained “derogatory and false information about me.”

Since this is a roundup, we’re not issuing a Pinocchio rating — but three of these claims fall in the Three-to-Four-Pinocchio range.

“So incompetent, on her watch violent crimes have exploded.”

During the voice-over, this text appears on the screen: “Atlanta violence: Nearly 60% more murders so far this year.” The source cited in the ad is a local Atlanta Fox News report from June 15, 2021. Cheung also supplied another report, from the same TV station, saying Atlanta homicides increased for the third consecutive year in 2022.

Note that the ad claims there were “60 percent more murders this year” but the article is from 2021. That meant it covered only the first six months of Willis’s tenure as district attorney, during a period when crime had spiked nationwide in part because of the pandemic. That’s a misleading metric.

It’s now two years later — and crime is falling. Through Aug. 5, homicides in Atlanta are down nearly 25 percent from 2022 (from 97 killings to 73) and rape has been cut in half (from 81 incidents to 36). Aggravated assault is down 22 percent.

“So tainted, Willis was thrown off one case for trying to prosecute a political opponent.”

This claim has validity. The ad cites a New York Times article that describes an embarrassing incident in the investigation of the Trump election case — when an Atlanta judge disqualified Willis from seeking a criminal case against one person allied with Trump.

State Sen. Burt Jones (R), one of 16 pro-Trump “alternate electors” in Georgia, was running for lieutenant governor and Willis had hosted a fundraiser for his Democratic opponent. Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said that presented a conflict of interest, calling Willis’s decision to headline the fundraiser a “what-are-you-thinking moment.”

Jones, who won in 2022, is not out of the woods yet. Now that Willis has brought charges against other alternate electors, a special prosecutor will be named to see if Jones also should face criminal charges.

“So corrupt, Willis got caught hiding a relationship with a gang member she was prosecuting.”

This is the most off-the-wall claim. As framed, the ad appears to suggest some sort of intimate relationship between Willis and the gang member. That’s bad enough. But it also gets a basic fact wrong — she was not prosecuting the gang member in question but friends of his.

Cheung directed us to articles in Rolling Stone and the Root, as well as a YouTube clip from No Jumper Clips discussing the Rolling Stone article.

The key article is from Rolling Stone, which interviewed one of Willis’s last clients, a co-founder of the Young Stoner Life music crew, before she switched from being a defense lawyer to a prosecutor. The client, YSL Mondo, said Willis defended him in a 2019 aggravated assault case and told Rolling Stone he was puzzled why she had now brought a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) case alleging the group was a criminal gang.

Mondo, whose legal name is Fremondo Crenshaw, was not charged in the YSL indictment brought by Willis, which claims the group is responsible for murders across Atlanta. But since the Rolling Stone interview appeared, Mondo has been charged with gun, drug and gang charges in DeKalb County. He is also awaiting trial on a separate case in Cobb County after police say he strangled and assaulted a woman. (Both counties are outside Willis’s jurisdiction.)

“This is not her character, this is not who she is,” Mondo told Rolling Stone. “I done had auntie-to-nephew, mother-to-son type of talks with her. I know this not her character.” He called her a “great attorney” but said he hadn’t spoken to her since his case was resolved.

Willis didn’t try to hide the relationship when Rolling Stone asked for comment, saying, “I can say I liked him” and hoped he was doing well. “When I represented [him], he received 110% effort from me,” she told Rolling Stone. “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.”

The ad only hints at a “relationship,” but four days after the ad first appeared, Trump dropped any pretense of nuance during a speech in Windham, N.H. In the speech, Trump claimed: “They say — I guess — they say that she was after a certain gang and she ended up having an affair with the head of the gang or a gang member.” He made a similar statement in a post on Truth Social on Sunday.

We asked Cheung if Trump’s comments were influenced by the wording in the ad but did not get a response.

“So dishonest, Willis was accused of creating a fake subpoena.”

Note that the ad says Willis was accused of doing this. The ad also includes text that says “Fani Willis was accused of prosecutorial misconduct,” attributing this claim to attorney Brian Steel. There was such an accusation, though it did not concern Willis — and it was rejected.

Steel is the attorney for Young Thug, the leader of YSL. He filed a motion asking for the charges against Jeffery Williams (Young Thug’s real name) be dismissed because the district attorney’s office issued what he called a “sham subpoena” to obtain information from Hertz about a car rented in Williams’s name that allegedly was tied to a homicide in the case.

But the subpoena was issued in 2016 — four years before Willis became the district attorney. Steel’s accusation concerned the district attorney’s office — not Willis herself.

In any case, the judge in the case in December denied Steel’s motion, saying the Hertz records could remain in the case. So the accusation failed.

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This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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