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Georgia lawmakers react to judge's ruling allowing Fani Willis to stay on Trump case: 'Wholly insufficient'

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Reactions from Georgia lawmakers poured in on Friday after a judge ruled that embattled Fulton County DA Fani Willis could remain on the case investigating alleged election interference by former President Donald Trump.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee issued a ruling Friday that Willis, who was accused of an improper romantic relationship that she attempted to cover up with special counsel Nathan Wade, could remain on the case if she fired Wade which prompted pushback from Georgia Republicans.

“The ruling by Judge McAfee seems to clearly identify impropriety between the DA and Mr. Wade,” Georgia Republican State Rep. Josh Bonner told Fox News Digital.  “Unfortunately, it does not address the purely partisan nature of the case brought by a rogue District Attorney more interested in scoring political points than prosecuting criminals in Fulton County.”

“Judge McAfee clearly found significant impropriety between Fani Willis and Nathan Wade,” Georgia Republican Lt. Gov Burt Jones told Fox News Digital. “If Fani Willis acted in the best interest of her constituents, she would resign immediately, but we know her inflated sense of self won’t allow that to happen. Regardless, the Georgia Senate investigatory committee will continue its work on behalf of the Georgia taxpayer to hold her accountable.” 

JUDGE IN GEORGIA SLAMS FANI WILLIS’ ‘IMPROPER’ CHURCH SPEECH, ‘PLAYING THE RACE CARD’

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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images)

Georgia Republican State Senator Jason Anavitarte told Fox News Digital it is “indisputable” that Willis “willfully concealed” her relationship with Wade.

“Rather than owning up to the relationship, admitting poor judgement and removing SADA Wade from this case as soon as it was revealed, DA Willis doubled down and spent the better part of 3 months continuing to obfuscate if not downright lie to the court,” Anavitarte said.

“Judge McAfee openly acknowledged that there is an ‘odor of mendacity’ and “reasonable questions about whether the DA and…SADA testified untruthfully.’ Despite all this, Judge McAfee chose to offer DA Willis an escape hatch that should have been voluntarily activated as soon as the relationship was uncovered, firing Nathan Wade,” he continued. “To me, that is wholly insufficient. Prosecutors should be held to the highest ethical standard. Clearly Judge McAfee failed in this account. Now it is incumbent on the nearly created Prosecuting Attorney Qualification Commission to determine whether DA Willis committed perjury. I suspect complaints to that end are forthcoming.”

REPUBLICANS HAMMER JUDGE MCAFEE’S RULING IN FANI WILLIS CASE, CALLING IT ‘ELECTION INTERFERENCE’

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Trump victory speech

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures to supporters during an election night watch party at the State Fairgrounds on February 24, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Georgia Republican State Sen. Bill Cowsert, who is leading a special Georgia Senate committee probe on Willis, told Fox News Anchor Martha MacCallum on Friday afternoon that he is “not surprised” by the judge’s move but agreed that Willis would be best served to recuse herself from the case.

“I feel confident that’s what she’ll do,” Cowsert said. “There’s just no way a jury will give any credibility to her further involvement, it will undermine her own mission of prosecuting these individuals if she stays personally involved. It’s just been a series of really poor choices.”

Some Democrats have backed Judge McAfee’s decision including Georgia State Sen. Derek Mallow who told Fox News Digital that the judge “clearly exercised jurisprudence” by reviewing the case and finding the “best process to move forward” to “remove any presence of impropriety in this case.”

“I think that is a good direction to head into, as this case does have merits and it needs to go before a jury,” Mallow explained.  “And I think that the judge has done his due diligence in his ruling. That’s why you have judges, to make those type of rulings. I still fundamentally believe my role and opinion in all of this is that there’s a separation between the judicial and the legislative branches.”

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Nathan Wade

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade sits in court during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images)

“Of course, I support the judge’s ruling for the case to move forward. I hope that the district attorney will make the needed separation there so that the case can move forward, and that the evidence and facts will come out, and a jury, the peers of all those involved, will make a determination and find guilt or innocence.”

McAfee said in his ruling that the defendants “failed to meet their burden of proving that the District Attorney acquired an actual conflict of interest in this case through her personal relationship and recurring travels with her lead prosecutor.”

“However, the established record now highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team – an appearance that must be removed through the State’s selection of one of two options,” he wrote, adding that Willis and her whole office can choose to step aside, or Wade can withdraw from the case.

On Friday afternoon, Wade announced that he is stepping down from the case in the interest of “democracy.” 

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Southeast

Anti-Catholic FBI memo's origin revealed as bureau absolved of 'malicious intent'

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been exonerated by a Department of Justice review that found investigators did not intend to target traditional Catholics as potential “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

The Justice Department Inspector General review noted, however, that analysts “incorrectly conflated” an investigative subject’s religious views with his alleged domestic terrorism activities. 

Findings from the 120-day review, which was handled by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz and ordered by Congress, were outlined in a letter sent to members of Congress on Thursday.

An FBI Richmond, Virginia, internal memo, titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” was leaked in January 2023 and drew instant criticism from Republicans, who demanded immediate answers from the agency.

According to the inspector general’s report, the memo, which has been dubbed the “Richmond Product,” was circulated amid an investigation of a potentially violent individual who was identified in the report as “Defendant A” and has since been arrested.

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GOP SENATORS DEMAND THE FBI ‘REPAIR THE DAMAGE’ TO ITS CREDIBILITY OVER ANTI-CATHOLIC MEMO DEBACLE

The Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters building is seen in Washington, D.C., on July 3, 2023. (Getty Images)

Though Defendant A was not been identified in the report, the dates and details of the case match the case against Xavier Lopez, who was indicted on federal weapons charges last June.

The FBI had been monitoring the suspect since 2019 due to his extremist views on social media, according to the inspector general’s review. 

The review stated that the suspect expressed neo-Nazi rhetoric and described himself as a “Catholic clerical fascist.” The FBI said he wrote in a letter to a family member that he needed to “build guns, explosives, and other forms of weaponry” in order to “make total war against the Satanic occultist government and the Zionist devil worshiping bankers who control it.”

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The indictment against Lopez did not mention the church he attended or that he was monitored ahead of his arrest in November 2022, when a search of his apartment uncovered Molotov cocktails and firearms he was not allowed to possess. Lopez was on probation at the time after pleading guilty to felony vandalism for slashing tires.

Though the investigation was appropriate, the inspector general’s review criticized aspects of the memo warning about potential extremism within certain Catholic churches that was shared by the FBI’s Richmond field office.

“The [FBI Inspection Division] report found that although there was no evidence of malicious intent or an improper purpose, the [memo] failed to adhere to analytic tradecraft standards and evinced errors in professional judgment, including that it lacked sufficient evidence or articulable support for a relationship between RMVEs (Racially Motivated Violent Extremists) and so-called RTC (Radical Traditional Catholicism) ideology; incorrectly conflated the subjects’ religious views with their RMVE activities, creating the appearance that the FBI had inappropriately considered religious beliefs and affiliation as a basis for conducting investigative activity; and reflected a lack of training and awareness concerning proper domestic terrorism terminology,” the inspector general noted.

One of the FBI analysts involved in the creation of the memo maintained that the goal was to enable FBI Richmond to conduct outreach to these “faith communities to make them aware of what we would call warning signs to radicalization, for the protection of everybody.” 

The inspector general noted in his assessment that he and his team “did not find evidence that anyone ordered or directed” the individuals responsible for crafting the memo “to find a link between RMVEs and any specific religion or political affiliation … or that there was any underlying policy direction concerning such a link.”

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The inspector general said a review of text messages and other conversations had between those who crafted the memo at the time “did not identify any evidence of discriminatory or inappropriate comments by them” about the church in question in the FBI’s investigation “or individuals who practiced a particular religious faith or held specific political beliefs.”

The inspector general also noted that he and his team did not find evidence that the FBI took any investigative steps involving the church except to monitor the suspect’s interactions. Investigators said they interviewed church members about the defendant’s alleged intent to incite violence.

CATHOLIC VOTERS RESPOND AFTER ‘DEVOUT’ BIDEN ONCE AGAIN SIDES AGAINST HIS CHURCH

Michael E. Horowitz

Findings from the 120-day review, which was handled by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz and ordered by Congress, were outlined in a letter sent to members of Congress on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“We found that FBI Richmond used these investigative techniques to obtain information about Defendant A and not to prepare the Richmond DP or collect intelligence more generally,” Horowitz wrote.

Based on findings by the FBI Inspection Division, the inspector general noted that the FBI “instituted corrective actions, including expanding training on analytical tradecraft standards and domestic terrorism terminology, enhancing review and approval requirements for intelligence products involving a sensitive investigative matter, and formally admonishing the employees involved.”

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“We did not assess, and therefore do not comment on, the corrective actions taken by the FBI,” he said.

Following Horowitz’s report to Congress, the FBI released a statement applauding him for his work and concluded that it aligns with their past remarks on the incident.

“We thank the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General for its review. The FBI has said numerous times that the intelligence product did not meet our exacting standards and was quickly removed from FBI systems,” the agency said. “We also have said there was no intent or actions taken to investigate Catholics or anyone based on religion; this was confirmed by the findings of the OIG.”

“The FBI’s mission is to protect our communities from potential threats while simultaneously upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans. We do not conduct investigations based solely on First Amendment protected activity, including religious practices,” it added.

FBI Director Christopher Wray at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Lopez was indicted in June 2023 in federal court on one count of possessing ammunition while a convicted felon and one count of possessing destructive devices. In March of this year, he pleaded guilty to possessing destructive devices. His sentencing is scheduled to take place in September.

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Horowitz noted that there were preliminary discussions with the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Strategic Unit to draft a similar memo to send to more field offices, but “those discussions ended following the [memo] becoming public.”

Fox News’ Thomas Phippen, Jake Gibson and Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.



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Florida teen arrested for allegedly pointing laser at sheriff's helicopter: 'He's blinding our pilot'

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A 13-year-old Florida boy is charged with a felony after allegedly pointing a laser at a sheriff’s department helicopter.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said the helicopter was in the sky around 12:30 a.m. Thursday in the area of 7th Street Northwest and 11th Avenue in Largo, when a green laser lighting device was pointed at the aircraft.

Deputies in the helicopter maintained a visual of the suspect and directed deputies on the ground to the suspect’s location.

“Get up and get somebody on this gentleman. He’s blinding our pilot,” a deputy in the helicopter is heard saying in video released by the sheriff’s office.

FORMER GOP CONGRESSMAN CRASHES INTO FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL VEHICLE IN ALLEGED ROAD RAGE INCIDENT: REPORT

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A 13-year-old Florida boy is charged with a felony for pointing a laser at a sheriff’s office helicopter. (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office)

Body camera video then shows deputies on the ground locating the young teen, who reportedly admitted to illuminating the helicopter with a laser lighting device. Deputies found a flare gun with a mounted green laser in his jacket.

Deputies said the teenager told them he intentionally aimed the laser at the helicopter because he was bored.

When he was in the back of a squad car, the boy was heard telling deputies, “I didn’t know it was a police helicopter.”

WARNING FOR PARENTS AFTER FLORIDA MOM FINDS AIRTAG IN SON’S SNEAKER

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A Florida teen is facing charges for shining a laser at a sheriff's office helicopter

The teenager told deputies he intentionally aimed the laser at the helicopter because he was bored. (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office)

The boy was arrested and charged with felony misuse of a laser lighting device. He was taken to the Pinellas County Juvenile Assessment Center.

According to Florida statute, it is a third-degree felony for any person to knowingly and willfully shine, point or focus the beam of a laser lighting device on an individual operating a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft.

The incident remains under investigation.

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Man who set himself on fire near NYC courthouse holding Trump trial pronounced dead

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The man who set himself on fire outside the New York City courthouse where former President Trump’s hush money trial was being held has been pronounced dead, according to officials.

Maxwell Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Florida, died Friday night from his severe burns after lighting himself on fire earlier in the day inside Collect Pond Park near the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse.

Azzarello was pronounced dead by hospital staff at about 10:30 p.m., a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department confirmed to Fox News Digital.

At around 1:30 p.m., Azzarello looked through his backpack and threw numerous pamphlets in the air, before he poured accelerant on his body and ignited a lighter in front of witnesses. The pamphlets, which included a link to a Substack page, were “propaganda-based” and promoted far-reaching conspiracy theories such as that “some of our educational institutions are a front for the mob,” officials said.

FLORIDA MAN SET HIMSELF ON FIRE NEAR NYC COURTHOUSE HOLDING TRUMP TRIAL

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Maxwell Azzarello, 37, was pronounced dead at about 10:30 p.m. Friday. (St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office)

After he was engulfed in flames, Azzarello took a few steps and fell onto a police barrier and to the ground. Court officers, police officers and other witnesses attempted to extinguish the flames with coats and other items. The fire was eventually extinguished by responding police.

Azzarello was transported to a burn center in critical condition. Four officers also suffered minor injuries from exposure to the fire.

The self-described investigative researcher arrived in New York City earlier in the week and began protesting in front of the courthouse, criticizing both Republican and Democrat politicians. His family was unaware he had traveled to the city.

A police official said Friday afternoon that it “appears he did post something about this event online prior to the incident.”

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“This extreme act of protest is to draw attention to an urgent and important discovery: We are victims of a totalitarian con, and our own government (along with many of their allies) is about to hit us with an apocalyptic fascist world coup,” Azzarello wrote in a manifesto on the Substack page.

TRUMP HUSH MONEY TRIAL: MEET THE JURORS WHO WILL HEAR BRAGG’S CASE AGAINST THE 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Azzarello's mugshot

Maxwell Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Florida, died Friday night from his severe burns after lighting himself on fire earlier in the day. (St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office)

The park was open to the public at the time of the incident and Azzarello did not breach any security protocols, police said.

Azzarello had three prior arrests across several days in Florida in August of last year, including for disturbing the peace and damage to property.

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His behavior leading to the arrests allegedly included tossing a glass of wine at former President Bill Clinton’s autograph on a wall protected by a frame inside the lobby of a hotel and, just two days later, stripping down to his boxers and yelling at customers at the same hotel.

After his third arrest, Florida police said Azzarello was suicidal.

Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.

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