The Fulton County district attorney investigating attempts to interfere with Georgia’s election results is no longer allowed to probe Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor nominee state Sen. Burt Jones, a judge ruled Monday.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

District Attorney Fani Willis and her office are disqualified from investigating Jones’ role as one of 16 fake electors that falsely claimed former President Donald Trump won the state’s 2020 election.

Judge Robert McBurney granted the motion from Jones after ruling that Willis hosting a June fundraiser for Democrat Charlie Bailey, who ultimately prevailed in a runoff to face Jones this November, created a conflict worthy of removal.

“This choice — which the District Attorney was within her rights as an elected official to make — has consequences,” McBurney wrote. “This scenario creates a plain — and actual and untenable — conflict.”

McBurney wrote that the optics of Willis conducting an investigation into an opponent of one of her allies — even if merited — was not sustainable, and that “the District Attorney does not have to be apolitical, but her investigations do.”

“Perhaps the evidence shows that there should be tighter, stricter focus on Senator Jones,” he wrote. “Yet any effort to treat him differently — even if justified — will prompt entirely reasonable concerns of politically motivated prosecution.”

The disqualification was a rare unforced error by Willis, who has been amassing evidence from numerous figures related to Georgia’s 2020 election in an effort to find potential crimes committed by Trump and his allies. Recent weeks have seen subpoenas go out to lawyers within Trump’s inner circle and lawmakers including Georgia U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as well as the 16 Republicans who falsely claimed to be Georgia’s Electoral College representatives.

But Jones, who played a prominent role in Republicans’ failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election, is not in the clear. According to a new law that took effect earlier this month, the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia will select another district attorney’s office to continue the investigation into Jones’ actions.

In addition to serving as a fake elector, Jones had dinner with former Vice President Mike Pence the night before the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, with plans to deliver a letter asking Pence to “delay and stay the count of votes of the Electoral College for twelve (12) days to allow for further investigation of fraud, irregularities, and misconduct in the November 2020 General Election.”  

Jones ultimately did not deliver the letter, and was later stripped of his committee chairmanship in the 2021 legislative session.

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Stephen Fowler is political reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting.