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    Georgia prosecutors urge court to reject Trump attempt to disqualify Fani Willis

    Fulton county prosecutors asked the Georgia state court of appeals on Monday to reject Donald Trump’s request to consider his claim that the district attorney should be disqualified over a relationship with her deputy, arguing that the matter was correctly settled by the lower court judge.“The present application merely reflects the applicants’ dissatisfaction with the trial court’s proper application of well-established law to the facts,” prosecutors wrote in a 19-page filing.Trump was charged alongside more than a dozen associates last year with racketeering over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. As part of their bid to dismiss the case, Trump and his co-defendants alleged the district attorney Fani Willis’s relationship meant she should be recused from the case.The effort to have Willis disqualified – which could have also resulted in the entire Fulton county district attorney’s office being disqualified – failed after the presiding judge decided, following days of evidentiary hearings, that Trump and his co-defendants did not prove a conflict of interest.The judge nonetheless ruled the relationship gave the appearance of a conflict, which needed to be addressed. For Willis to continue bringing the case, the judge ordered, her deputy Nathan Wade needed to resign from the district attorney’s office. Wade resigned later that evening.Trump and his co-defendants challenged the ruling last week, arguing to the Georgia state court of appeals that it should clarify the standard for forensic misconduct standard that would require Willis to step down and that the lower court judge should have found there was actual conflict of interest.The Georgia state court of appeals does not have to hear the case and prosecutors on Monday contended that Trump had failed to establish sufficient cause because he did not convincingly show his claims met several specific conditions.Broadly, an order from a lower court is deemed reviewable if the issue at hand is dispositive for the case, if the order appears wrongly decided on the facts and would adversely affect a defendant’s rights, or if it was a novel issue for which the appeals court should create a precedent.The filing from prosecutors argued Trump’s motion was deficient since the lower court found there was no evidence that the Willis-Wade relationship meant they had a “disqualifying personal interest” in bringing or continuing the Trump case, meaning there was also no due process violations.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionIt also argued the Georgia state court of appeals has previously decided that in the absence of an “actual” conflict, as opposed to the appearance of one, a lower court could not be deemed as having made a clearly unreasonable or erroneous ruling by deciding not to disqualify a defense attorney.The filing added that even if there was some conflict, the issue had been resolved because the lower court allowed Willis to continue prosecuting the case as long as Wade resigned. “This court has sanctioned this same remedy as a cure for the potential appearance of impropriety,” prosecutors wrote. More

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    Senator Raphael Warnock: ‘The Bible doesn’t need Trump’s endorsement’

    Donald Trump’s decision to sell Bibles branded under his name is “risky business”, the Democratic US senator Raphael Warnock said on Sunday, as the former president stands accused of having few moral scruples in four separate criminal indictments pending against him.“The Bible does not need Donald Trump’s endorsement,” Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist church, said to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. Speaking on Easter, one of Christianity’s holiest celebrations, Warnock added: “It’s a risky bet because the folks who buy those Bibles might actually open them up, where it says things like thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not bear false witness, where it warns about wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing.“I think you ought to be careful. This is risky business for somebody like Donald Trump.”Warnock’s comments to CNN came days after the Republican who is running against Joe Biden for a second presidency in November presented an offer for the public to buy Trump-endorsed Bibles for $59.99. “Let’s Make America Pray Again”, Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform, a clear reference to the “Make America Great Again” slogan that he rode to the White House in 2016.But indeed more than 80 criminal charges filed against Trump over the previous 12 months – including in Warnock’s home state of Georgia – charge the former president with behaving in ways that many true Bible devotees would frown upon.Trump has pleaded not guilty to allegations that he tried to unduly overturn the outcome of the 2020 election that he lost to his Democratic rival Biden, improperly retained classified government materials after his presidency, and illicitly covered up hush-money payments to an adult film actor who has claimed to have engaged in extramarital sex with him.He is also facing multimillion-dollar civil penalties for business practices deemed fraudulent and an allegation that he raped a woman – a claim that a judge has determined to be substantially true.Warnock on Sunday said he wasn’t surprised Trump had turned to selling Bibles to help raise funds for his soaring legal bills as well as his presidential campaign. The senator alluded to Trump’s history of hawking – among other things – Trump-branded steaks, non-accredited business school degrees and, more recently, $399 gold sneakers.“Now he’s trying to sell the scriptures,” said Warnock, who was first elected to the US Senate in 2020. “At the end of the day, I think he’s trying to sell the American people a bill of goods.”Warnock went out of his way to mention that Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but recognized that his tact allowed him to triumph in the electoral college. But Warnock remarked: “It did not work in 2020,” when Trump lost both the popular and electoral college votes.“And,” the senator said,” I don’t think it’s going to work in 2024.”skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionDuring his interview on CNN, Warnock also addressed criticism from Trump and his Republican allies that Biden recognized Transgender Day of Visibility – which falls annually on 31 March – as scheduled on Sunday, even though this year it coincided with Easter.The Republican US House speaker, Mike Johnson, notably asserted that Biden had “betrayed the central tenet of Easter”, something that he called “outrageous and abhorrent”.Warnock, who is part of a succession of Ebenezer Baptist church pastors that includes the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, said the fabricated controversy was another instance of people “who do not know how to lead us trying to divide us”.“Apparently, the speaker finds trans people abhorrent, and I think he ought to think about that,” Warnock said. “The fact of the matter is … March 31 has been a day to lift up transgender people who endure violence and bigotry.“But this is just one more instance of folks … who do not know how to lead us trying to divide us. And this is the opposite of the Christian faith. Jesus centered the marginalized. He centered the poor. And in a moment like this, we need voices, particularly voices of faith, who would use our faith not as a weapon to beat other people down, but as a bridge to bring all of us together.” More

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    A Georgia Town Basks in Bountiful Filming. The State Pays.

    When movies are made in Thomasville, Ga., it welcomes celebrities and an infusion of cash. But the financial incentives that attract studios have cost the state billions.It is no wonder that moviemakers saw potential in Thomasville, Ga., as a stand-in for Main Street U.S.A. Cobblestone streets and mom-and-pop stores speckle the downtown of this city of 18,000 that is caked in red clay soil and nestled among rolling hills.Just as attractive to some of those producers are Georgia’s lavish filming incentives, which have made Thomasville a cost-effective place to make modest pictures with major stars. Dustin Hoffman came for the rom-com “Sam & Kate.” A children’s book adaptation, “The Tiger Rising,” brought Dennis Quaid and Queen Latifah to town.But what is good on the ground for local economies — Thomasville says each of the six movies filmed there has provided an economic boost of about $1 million — can simultaneously be a drain on state coffers.Some Georgia lawmakers wondered whether it might be wise to put some limits on an uncapped tax incentive program that has given billions of dollars to Hollywood studios, scrambling this week in hopes of passing a bill that would modify the program. More

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    The election deniers relentlessly hounding Georgia officials

    In December, a Texas man named Kevin Moncla emailed Georgia election board members in response to their decision not to investigate the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, over bogus election fraud claims. Moncla made a vague threat that he was willing to take things outside the bounds of his increasingly frustrated emails.The communication alarmed members of the state election board (SEB) enough to contact federal law enforcement.Moncla’s email was one among hundreds of communications sent by a small but aggressive group of election deniers since former president Donald Trump’s loss in Georgia in 2020 as part of a relentless pressure campaign directed at Georgia officials to investigate unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud – and to implement policies based on those claims that will affect how elections are run in Georgia.“We can address these matters publicly or privately – but make no mistake, they will be addressed,” Moncla told members of the board in the email that prompted Georgia election officials to ask the FBI to investigate him.Moncla is among a small group of election deniers who have relentlessly hounded the Georgia SEB and other officials on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to investigate mostly unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. He has been joined in his pursuit of conspiratorial election fraud claims by Joe Rossi, a teacher at a technical college in Macon, and David Cross, a self-described financial adviser who is second vice-chair of the Georgia GOP. The trio have made a name for themselves in election denier circles, with their work being cited across a rightwing ecosystem of influential websites, social media accounts and even within prominent political circles.Since November 2020, Moncla and his fellow election deniers have emailed the SEB to file complaints based on technical glitches, human errors and in many cases outright false claims of widespread election fraud in Georgia. The complaints follow the playbook of rightwing activists and citizens across the state who have been inundating local election offices with public records requests in attempts to prove conspiracies about widespread voter fraud.The Guardian obtained hundreds of pages of their communications, which span from just after Trump’s 2020 loss through January. The emails show not only the length to which the trio of election deniers have gone in pressuring officials to investigate claims of voter fraud, but how those efforts have succeeded in lending those claims an air of credibility.In one case, Rossi found 36 “inconsistencies” on ballots processed by election workers in Fulton county, home of the state’s largest city, Atlanta. Those errors were substantiated by Governor Brian Kemp’s office and, eventually, the SEB, which found the erroneously counted ballots “were a fractional number of the votes counted and did not affect the outcome” of the 2020 election. The SEB found Fulton county in violation of state election law for the errors.Moncla, Rossi and Cross did not respond to requests for comment.View image in fullscreenThe emails obtained by the Guardian also show kind words for one of the SEB’s newest board members, Dr Janice Johnston, who is a critic of election management in Fulton county and nominee of Republican state lawmakers.“I really enjoyed speaking with you this week,” Moncla wrote to Johnson in March 2022. “From our conversation I sensed a sincere interest and conviction to look into these matters and remedy them. I find it refreshing and believe you will be instrumental in reforming what has been simply unacceptable election practices.”In December, Johnston and fellow Republican appointee Ed Lindsey voted to investigate Raffensperger over claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump – a hard-fought win for Moncla and his election denier cohorts. Raffensperger’s office warned that the vote was part of Georgia Republicans’ plans to lay “the foundation to discredit the next election”.In January, following the controversial vote, Republicans in the state legislature appointed an alleged election denier who has shared far-right memes on his Facebook page to the election board. With two new members who are apparently sympathetic to claims of election fraud, Moncla and others continued their pressure campaign into this pivotal election year.“Mr. Sterling for the 6th time, respectfully requesting a 1 hour meeting with you to discuss election facts,” Moncla wrote on 7 January to the Georgia state election official Gabriel Sterling, a frequent target of election denier complaints and harassment.“As stated previously, it’s easy for you to hide behind your little Twitter [post] and call me and millions of other GA patriot liars,” Moncla wrote after Sterling claimed that election deniers had spread “lies” about a supposed investigation of fraudulent votes.“It takes courage to sit down face-to-face,” Moncla said, demanding in repeated emails that Sterling meet him in person.Late last year, lawyers for Trump used Rossi’s work – in the form of a document called the “Risk Limiting Audit Spreadsheet Analysis” – in an appeal for presidential immunity in special counsel Jack Smith’s January 6 insurrection case. Rossi’s report reiterates claims of voter fraud that have been repeatedly debunked, according to the Washington Post.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionAlso last year, Cross was chosen as second vice-chairman of the Georgia GOP as part of a takeover by far-right extremists and election deniers within the state party. Cross has championed a burgeoning movement for paper ballots and hand counts of all elections – a movement that has seen some success in at least one Georgia county, where election officials attended a hand count demonstration sponsored by Cross, as the Guardian previously discovered.Cross has led efforts to expose so-called “ballot mules” by obtaining and reviewing security camera footage from ballot drop box locations showing individuals he claimed were illegally submitting fraudulent ballots.“I am part of a volunteer team of citizens investigating irregularities in the November 2020 election,” Cross wrote in scores of complaints of instances of so-called “ballot harvesting”, which mirrored claims made in the widely debunked election denier documentary 2,000 Mules.Cross’s complaints are filled with assumptions about the men and women seen dropping ballots into ballot boxes. “This individual is clearly familiar with the ballot box and she takes a couple of pictures while inserting ballots and afterwards,” Cross wrote in an April 2022 complaint.View image in fullscreenAll of Cross’s complaints were investigated, according to Raffensperger’s office, which said in emails obtained by the Guardian that the individuals were dropping off ballots for members of their family, which is allowed under Georgia law.Even when an investigator with Raffensperger’s office, Dana Dewesse, found no wrongdoing on the part of voters highlighted in Cross’s ballot harvesting complaints, Cross questioned whether the investigator had done their job.“I don’t believe investigator Dewesse contacted this person and closed out the file in 48 hours,” Cross wrote to Johnston on 12 May 2022. “Can you please ask him for a copy of his notes / working file? I don’t need to see it but I would like to know if he actually interviewed this person.”Johnston did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, the SEB chair, John Fervier, said that all “complaints received by the board are taken seriously and given due consideration regardless of the number of complaints filed”.While many of the trio’s complaints are baseless, some have exposed problems in Georgia’s election system, said Marilyn Marks, who runs the Coalition for Good Government and is a plaintiff in the long-running lawsuit that seeks to expose flaws with the state’s machine-run voting system. Marks specifically pointed to Rossi’s complaint about inconsistencies found in ballot tabulation in Fulton county that warranted a request from Kemp’s office for the SEB to investigate.“While Moncla and Cross have a chronic history of recklessly filing irresponsibly inaccurate complaints, the report that Kemp’s office attached to the original Rossi complaint concerning the Fulton hand count audit merits serious objective investigation and deliberation by the state election board,” Marks tsaid. “Although the declared audit outcome (Biden win) would very likely be repeated in a careful post-election review, Georgians must not accept election review processes that Governor Kemp rightly calls ‘sloppy’ and ‘inconsistent’, noting that the results ‘do not inspire confidence.’”The offices of Kemp and Raffensperger did not respond to requests for comment. More

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    Yellen to Warn China Against Flood of Cheap Green Energy Exports

    The Treasury secretary, who plans to make her second trip to China soon, will argue that the country’s excess industrial production warps supply chains.The Biden administration is growing increasingly concerned that a glut of heavily subsidized green technology exports from China is distorting global markets and plans to confront Chinese officials about the problem during an upcoming round of economic talks in Beijing.The tension over industrial policy is flaring as the United States invests heavily in production of solar technology and electric vehicle batteries with funding from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, while China pumps money into its factory sector to help stimulate its sluggish economy. President Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s leader, have sought to stabilize the relationship between the world’s two largest economies, but differences over trade policy, investment restrictions and cyberespionage continue to strain ties.In a speech on Wednesday afternoon, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen will lay out her plans to raise the issue of overcapacity with her Chinese counterparts. At the Suniva solar cell factory in Norcross, Ga., she will warn that China’s export strategy threatens to destabilize global supply chains that are developing around industries such as solar, electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries, according to a copy of her prepared remarks reviewed by The New York Times.“China’s overcapacity distorts global prices and production patterns and hurts American firms and workers, as well as firms and workers around the world,” Ms. Yellen will say. “Challenges for individual firms can lead to concentrated supply chains, negatively impacting global economic resilience.”The Treasury secretary is expected to make her second trip to China in the coming weeks. The South China Morning Post reported that she will visit Guangzhou and Beijing in early April. The Treasury Department declined to comment on her travel plans.In her speech in Georgia, Ms. Yellen will compare China’s investments in green energy technology production to what she described as its previous overinvestment in steel and aluminum, saying it created “global spillovers.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Fani Willis: ‘Train is coming’ for Trump despite efforts to derail Georgia case

    The Georgia prosecutor overseeing Donald Trump’s election interference case in that state promised Saturday that “the train is coming” for him despite defense efforts to derail her office’s pursuit of charges against the former president and nearly two dozen co-defendants.Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis’s remarks came after a court challenge centering on a romantic relationship that she had with a special prosecutor whom she appointed to the case, Nathan Wade. After the relationship was exposed, Wade stepped down from the prosecution to defuse any appearances of a potential conflict of interest and so Willis could stay on the case.“I don’t feel like we have been slowed down at all” by Trump’s efforts to use the relationship with Wade to disqualify her from prosecuting him, Willis told CNN on Saturday at a Georgia Easter egg hunt. “I think there are efforts to slow down the train, but the train is coming.”Willis’s case alleges a conspiracy to commit election fraud after Trump came up narrowly short in the state’s vote during the 2020 presidential race that he lost to Joe Biden. But it has been beset with complications.A little more than 10 days ago, Fulton county judge Scott McAfee dismissed six counts against Trump and his co-defendants relating to an infamous phone call in which the former president urged Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find” more than 11,000 votes that would put Trump over Biden.Of the 13 counts Trump faces, three of them were thrown out. McAfee essentially agreed with defense lawyers that the charges “fail to allege sufficient detail” regarding what aspect of Raffensperger’s oath of office the defendants were allegedly trying to get him to break.But the attention on Willis, who had hired Wade to draw up the charges, continues to hang over the case. Earlier in March, McAfee held three days of hearings weighing motions to disqualify her.Wade and Willis admitted they had been in a relationship but said it did “not amount to a disqualifying conflict of interest”. They maintained that Willis had not benefitted financially, directly or indirectly, when they took several holidays and trips together.McAfee ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove the defense’s claims but rebuked Willis for what he called a “tremendous lapse in judgment”.Attorneys for Trump argued that Willis – who is Black – committed “appalling and unforgivable” forms of forensic misconduct by “stoking racial and religious prejudice” against the defendants after she claimed that the allegations against her had been motivated by race.The judge later agreed that attorneys for Trump’s co-defendants are free to appeal his ruling that she could stay on the case. That proceeding is almost certain to lead to a new set of legal challenges relating to prosecutorial impropriety, actual or in appearance, around the Willis-Wade affair.Willis told CNN that she did not feel that her professional reputation had been sullied or that she had done anything embarrassing.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“I’m not embarrassed by anything I’ve done,” Willis said. “I guess my greatest crime is that I had a relationship with a man, but that’s not something I find embarrassing in any way.”But some questioned her decision to speak to the media after the intense attention around her personal decisions around the case have come close to derailing it entirely.In a series of posts on X, Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis, who’s been following the case against Trump, noted that McAfee had previously threatened to impose a gag order on Willis.“If I were Fani Willis, I would simply not talk to the media at all at this point just out of an abundance of caution,” Kreis wrote. More

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    ‘Fraud is fraud’: Georgia aims to ban AI deepfakes in political campaigns

    When wrangling legislation, sometimes it’s best to sound out a problem in front of you.In Georgia, it sounds like the state senator Colton Moore. But it only sounds like Colton Moore.Todd Jones, a Republican state representative who chairs the Georgia house committee on technology and infrastructure innovation, has proposed legislation outlawing the use of artificial intelligence deepfakes in political communication. To illustrate the point, Jones presented a deepfake video to the judiciary committee using an AI image and audio of Moore and Mallory Staples, a former Republican congressional candidate who now runs a far-right activist organization, the Georgia Freedom caucus.The video uses an AI tool to impersonate the voices of Moore and Mallory falsely endorsing passage of the bill. The video contains a continuous disclaimer at the bottom citing the text of the bill.Moore and Mallory oppose the legislation.The AI impersonation of Moore says: “I would ask the committee: how is using my biometric data, like my voice and likeness, to create media supporting a policy that I clearly don’t agree with the first amendment right of another person?”The video continues: “The overwhelming number of Georgians believe the use of my personal characteristics against my will is fraud, but our laws don’t currently reflect that. If AI can be used to make Colton Moore speak in favor of a popular piece of legislation, it can be used to make any one of you say things you’ve never said.”Brad Thomas, the Republican co-sponsor of the bill and co-author of the video, said he and his colleagues used commonly available tools to create the video.“The particular one we used is, like, $50. With a $1,000 version, your own mother wouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” he said.The pace of advancement of visual AI generative tools is years ahead of the legislation needed to prevent abuses, Thomas said: “Cinematography-style video. Those individuals look absolutely real, and they’re AI-generated.”The bill passed out of committee on an 8-1 vote.Moore is not popular in Georgia’s legislative circles. His peers in the state senate threw him out of the Republican caucus in September, accusing him of making false statements about other conservatives while he was advocating fruitlessly for a special session to remove the Fulton county prosecutor Fani Willis from office.Last week, Moore was permanently barred from the Georgia house chamber after rhetorically attacking the late speaker at a memorial service being held on the house floor.Through the Georgia senate press office, Moore declined to comment.In social media posts, Moore has voiced opposition to this bill, which he said is an attack on “memes” used in political discourse, and that satire is protected speech.Staples, in newsletters to her supporters, cited the federal conviction of Douglass Mackey last year as an example of potential harms. Mackey, also known as the alt-right influencer “Rickey Vaughn”, sent mass text messages in November 2016 encouraging Black recipients to “vote by text” instead of casting a real vote, with the texts claiming they had been paid for by the Clinton campaign.Federal judges rejected Mackey’s first amendment arguments on the ground that the communications amounted to acts of fraud which were not constitutionally protected. Mackey was sentenced in October to serve seven months.House bill 986 creates the crimes of fraudulent election interference and soliciting fraudulent election interference, with penalties of two to five years in prison and fines up to $50,000.If within 90 days of an election, a person publishes, broadcasts, streams or uploads materially deceptive media – defined as appearing to depict a real individual’s speech or conduct that did not occur in reality and would appear to a reasonable person to be authentic – they would be guilty of a felony, as long as the media in question significantly influences the chances for a candidate or referendum to win, or confuses the administration of that election. Thus, it would also criminalize using deepfakes used to cast doubt on the results of an election.Deepfakes entered the 2024 election at its start, with an AI-generated audio call featuring Joe Biden telling New Hampshire voters not to vote. After the call, the Federal Communications Commission announced a ban on robocalls that use AI audio. But the Federal Elections Commission has yet to put rules in place for political ads that use AI, something watchdog groups have been calling for for months. Regulations are lagging behind the reality of AI’s capabilities to mislead voters.In the absence of federal elections rules for AI content, states have stepped in, filing and, in several instances, passing bills that typically require labels on political ads that use AI in some way. Without these labels, AI-generated content in political ads is considered illegal in most of the bills filed in states.Experts say AI audio, in particular, has the ability to trick voters because a listener loses context clues that might tip them off that a video is fake. Audio deepfakes of prominent figures, such as Trump and Biden, are easy and cheap to make using readily available apps. For less well-known people who often speak publicly and have a large volume of examples of their voices, like speeches or media appearances, people can upload these examples to train a deepfake clone of the person’s voice.Enforcement of the Georgia law might be challenging. Lawmakers struggled to find ways to rein in anonymous flyers and robocalls spreading misinformation and fraud ahead of elections long before the emergence of AI.“I think that’s why we gave concurrent jurisdiction to the attorney general’s office,” Thomas said. “One of the other things we’ve done is allow the [Georgia bureau of investigation] to investigate election issues. Between the horsepower of those two organizations, we have the highest likelihood of figuring out who did it.”Lawmakers are only just starting to get at the implications of AI. Thomas expects more legislation to emerge over the next few sessions.“Fraud is fraud, and that’s what this bill is coming down to,” Thomas said. “That’s not a first amendment right for anyone.”Rachel Leingang contributed reporting More

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    Defendants can appeal decision to keep Fani Willis on Trump case, judge rules

    The judge overseeing the election interference criminal case against Donald Trump and others in Georgia on Wednesday ruled that the defendants can appeal the decision last week to allow the prosecutor Fani Willis to remain on the case despite a past romantic relationship with her deputy.Last Friday the judge, Scott McAfee, in Georgia ruled that the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, could continue to head the prosecution of Trump for trying to undermine the 2020 presidential election in the state, as long as the top deputy agreed to step down.The deputy, the special prosecutor Nathan Wade, with whom Willis had a romantic relationship, resigned on Friday, clearing the way for Willis to continue.Now the judge will allow an appeal, according to a new court filing.Reuters contributed reportingskip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionMore details soon … More