Plus, a question about Ezra Klein's call for Biden to step down.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Fani Willis's explosive testimony and what it means for the Trump case. Plus, a question about Ezra Klein's call for Biden to step down.

Quick hits.

Note: We were off yesterday, so we are including eight "quick hits" today to cover all the news we missed.

  1. Former President Donald Trump was ordered to pay a penalty of at least $354 million and was barred from running a company in New York for three years. The ruling came in a civil fraud trial in which Trump was charged with misrepresenting his wealth. (The ruling)
  2. An FBI informant who gave the agency information about an alleged connection between the Bidens and a Ukrainian energy company was indicted by a grand jury and  arrested for making false statements about President Biden and his son, Hunter. (The arrest) 
  3. Israel warned that it will expand its ground invasion into Gaza's southern city of Rafah on March 10 if Hamas does not release the remaining hostages held there. 1.5 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza, have fled to Rafah to shelter during the war. (The plan)
  4. Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was being held in a penal colony, was pronounced dead by Russian authorities. Hundreds were then arrested across Russia amid demonstrations mourning his death. (The arrests
  5. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he won't run for president this year despite rumors he may join a No Labels ticket. (The announcement) Separately, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) announced layoffs on his campaign staff but pledged to stay in the race. (The layoffs
  6. Two police officers and a paramedic were killed during a domestic incident call in Burnsville, Minnesota. (The shooting
  7. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will appear in court today to appeal extradition from the U.K. to the United States. He faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act for orchestrating the 2010 release of classified documents exposing civilian casualties in the U.S. war in Iraq. (The fight)
  8. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) approved a new Congressional map after the state's Supreme Court struck down previous maps for unconstitutional gerrymandering. (The maps)

Today's topic.

The Fani Willis testimony. On Thursday, the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney took the stand in dramatic fashion. Willis is fighting the claim that a relationship between her and private attorney Nathan Wade should disqualify her and her team from carrying on with the election interference and racketeering case against Donald Trump and his associates.

Back up: Willis is leading the sprawling investigation into Donald Trump's efforts to overturn Joe Biden's victory in Georgia in the 2020 election. She used the state's anti-racketeering laws to file a 98-page indictment against Trump and 18 co-conspirators on charges of conspiracy to commit forgery, influencing witnesses, computer theft, impersonating a public officer, and filing false documents. Four of the co-conspirators charged have already taken plea deals. The case is considered one of the greatest legal threats to Trump, because he couldn't theoretically pardon himself from a state conviction if he wins the 2024 election.

However, lawyers for one of those 18 co-defendants — a man named Michael Roman, who ran Trump's election-day operations — have filed a motion to remove Willis from the case. According to Roman’s lawyers, Willis was engaged in an affair with Wade when she hired him to manage the case, resulting in Willis's District Attorney's office paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars, which in turn Wade used to take Willis on a number of exotic vacations. This, Roman argued, created a conflict of interest that could impact prosecutorial decisions.

Roman's lawyers then argued that Wade, Willis and Willis's entire office should be disqualified from the case for a conflict of interest, given that Willis was enriching someone she had a relationship with by moving the case forward. This motion against Willis’s case does not just apply to Roman — it applies to all 15 remaining defendants, including Trump, who have not yet been tried on the charges brought in Georgia.

What just happened: The motion was initially received skeptically by legal experts as a hail mary effort to get the case thrown out. But then Roman's lawyers presented evidence, including credit card statements, that showed Wade had purchased tickets to vacation destinations for himself and Willis. Wade then filed a sworn affidavit in which he conceded he and Willis had an affair, but said it began after they started working together.

On Thursday, a much-hyped "star witness" — Wade's divorce lawyer Terrence Bradley — took the stand but ultimately added little information, citing various technical reasons including attorney-client privilege for why he couldn’t answer with more detail. Instead, a former friend of Willis's, a woman named Robin Yeartie, ended up testifying that she remembered Willis's affair with Wade beginning before he started working on this case in November 2021. This undercut sworn testimony from both Wade and Willis.

Then, despite Willis's lawyer arguing to the judge that she shouldn't need to testify, Willis entered the courtroom and decided to take the stand herself. In combative exchanges with Roman's defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant and the judge overseeing the hearing, Willis insisted she was being publicly smeared, responded to questions in lengthy detail, spoke over other lawyers, and claimed false and offensive allegations were being levied against her.

Ultimately, Willis and Wade both told similar stories — that Willis had actually paid Wade for the vacations in cash, which they had no receipts for, and that neither of them have benefited inappropriately from the case or their relationship. Both gave similar timelines for when their relationship began and ended that contradicted Yeartie’s. When pressed to present evidence like bank receipts of cash withdrawals for the trip, Willis told a story about her father always insisting she have six months’ rent in cash in her home, and said she used that money to pay Wade for the trips.

“These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis said in response to questions from Merchant.

Now, a debate is ensuing about whether Willis acted inappropriately, how strong the evidence of a conflict of interest actually is against her, and whether her relationship with Wade should be grounds for removal — even if the defense attorney's allegations are all true.

Today, we're going to explore some opinions from the left and right, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is highly critical of Willis’s testimony, suggesting that she’s done irreparable damage to the integrity of the case. 
  • Some say Willis is presenting herself as a victim but has only herself to blame. 
  • Others say Trump continues to benefit from the ineptitude of those who attack him. 

In Fox News, Philip Holloway wrote “Willis did herself no favors in the court of public opinion.”

“Whatever goodwill Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had with people who do not have strong feelings either way about Donald Trump was squandered in an Atlanta courtroom by Willis's absurd and embarrassing spectacle of unprofessional and childish behavior by someone who is supposed to be a professional, fair-minded prosecutor,” Holloway said. “Rather than acknowledging she used bad judgment in having an affair with her special prosecutor, she put on the cloak of righteous indignation. Rather than concede that she got caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she picked a courtroom fight with a lawyer who is simply defending her client as the Constitution requires.”

“Fani Willis is either a terrible witness or a brilliant witness, depending on how you see things. But she is likely to nevertheless prevail on this issue. Why? Because the judge may be stuck with her claim she repaid Wade in cash,” Holloway added. “Willis and Wade are not out of the woods yet, however. There are still the issues of whether either or both have lied to the court about when their affair began… It's too soon to know if the Fulton RICO case will collapse under the weight of the host of ethical claims brought by the remaining defendants, but one thing is certain: The prosecution will be playing defense for the foreseeable future.”

In The New York Post, Isaac Schorr called Willis “just another false Democrat idol who’s now playing the victim.”

“Willis is already being celebrated in the same way that Michael Avenatti once was,” Schorr wrote. “We’re fully through the looking glass here; to have any semblance of perspective and listen to the effusive praise for Willis is to feel like you’ve been transported to the Twilight Zone. Willis is not some scrappy underdog being unfairly maligned, she’s a prosecutor with the power to strip citizens of their liberty. She has been entrusted with a solemn responsibility. Instead of treating it as such, she’s disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to her lover. Now she’s playing the victim for being found out.

“If anyone other than Donald Trump — whose conduct in the wake of the 2020 election was abominable, and yes, potentially criminal — were the defendant in this case, the disgust over Willis’ behavior would be universal. But because she’s after him, Willis has become the subject of admiration rather than scorn on the left. What a world we live in when even after January 6, Donald Trump is a hero to many on the right, and despite her obvious ethical lapses, Fani Willis is a hero to the left.”

In The Daily Caller, Josh Hammer said “Donald Trump has all the right enemies.”

“Trump is truly blessed with the best enemies. For all of Trump’s bad luck, he is also aided right now by some very, very good luck,” Hammer wrote. Willis’s “courtroom meltdown this week, and the likelihood that she lied in court about the timing of her extramarital affair with her own appointed special prosecutor, has crystallized what already seemed likely: The Georgia prosecution, which once seemed the most dangerous of Trump’s four criminal cases, is imploding.”

“At this point, Trump’s Georgia case is not reaching a verdict before the election; the only questions are whether a trial commences at all, and whether Willis ends up being the one to go to jail instead of Trump or his codefendants. It is often said that it is better to be lucky than good,” Hammer said. “Everywhere else Trump looks, Lady Luck seems to be shining.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left is disappointed in Willis’s decision-making but troubled by the assertions made about her. 
  • Some say her testimony was sufficient to prove she should remain on the case. 
  • Others suggest Willis has undermined the legitimacy of the case. 

In The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nedra Rhone wrote “the aim isn’t just to disqualify Fani Willis. It’s to discredit her.”

“When the hearing began, it quickly became clear that defense attorneys weren’t only seeking to disqualify Willis. Their line of questioning and impudent manner indicated they wanted even more so to taint and embarrass her — not just in the moment, but for the rest of her career,” Rhone said. “I found myself managing conflicting feelings: dismay over Willis’ seeming lapse in judgment and the irrepressible hope that she would prevail and dispel the notion that she, a highly skilled attorney, would use taxpayer dollars to fund meals at inexpensive restaurants and romantic vacations with Wade.”

“As a woman, watching the hearing was painful. I felt every moment when defense attorneys used a rude or disrespectful tone with Willis, when they discounted cultural norms, or when they continually tried to push legal boundaries and had to be reined in by Judge Scott McAfee,” Rhone wrote. “Ultimately, the judge will decide if Willis benefitted from hiring Wade and whether this impedes her ability to conduct the case fairly. She made a mistake in mixing business with pleasure, as many of us do, though our stumbles aren’t so public. But, while she may have brought this situation upon herself, I want to give her the space to be human.”

In MSNBC, Anthony Coley argued Willis’s testimony “conveyed strength, a clear command of the law and the facts, and a much-needed level of public candor.”

“Based on what we know now, Willis’ sexual relationship with Wade clearly has nothing to do with Trump’s corrupt attempt to steal the 2020 election or the prosecution of that alleged crime. With confidence and candor, Willis disassembled the arguments against her,” Coley said. “She credibly rebutted the assertion that she and Wade had ever lived together. And she confirmed under oath and on the record that her personal relationship with Wade began after he started working for Fulton County, contradicting the early testimony of her former friend.”

Even so, Willis owes voters more of an explanation about her personal relationship with Wade. In 2020, she promised them that she would not date a person on her staff,” Coley added. “But that’s an issue for another day. Right now, Willis has convinced me that her behavior, while ill-advised, does not warrant her recusal from this case. But today’s testimony has had a surprising secondary effect. After watching her testify, I feel more confident than before that she has the toughness and resolve to continue this prosecution against Trump.”

In Slate, Jeremy Stahl and Mark Joseph Stern said “Willis’ strange, furious testimony may have blown up her case against Trump.”

“Willis managed to put forth a set of fairly plausible rebuttals to claims that she violated any formal rules or misrepresented herself to the court. And yet none of her protestations could possibly inspire confidence in a skeptic that she should continue to lead this prosecution. Anyone bringing criminal charges against Trump is bound to face withering scrutiny of their professional and private lives; they must conduct themselves unimpeachably to avoid even a hint of bias or corruption. By failing to disclose her relationship to the court in the first instance, Willis did not live up to that standard.”

“The district attorney’s embarkation upon strange tangents and rambling monologues is proof in itself that the optics of the situation are not good for her side. No matter what happens to Willis next, a huge amount of damage has already been inflicted on the integrity and legitimacy of this case,” Stahl and Stern wrote. “If this episode ends with McAfee disqualifying Willis from the prosecution, it will be a spectacular self-own and severely damage one of the most important efforts to hold Trump accountable for his attacks on democracy.”

My take.

  • Willis’s ethical lapse is incredibly disappointing, on its own and because it distracts from the focus of her case.
  • I doubt there’s enough reason to remove her but I won’t be upset if the judge decides otherwise.
  • It’s just discouraging that the attempts to overturn the 2020 election continue not to get their day in court.

It is an incredibly disappointing spectacle, for more reasons than one.

As I've said before, I believe Trump's efforts to pressure election officials to find votes, submit false electors, or otherwise change the 2020 election’s result to be the most dangerous and despicable acts he took while in office. I view his actions in Georgia far more negatively than his role in the events of January 6, even though what happened that day is closely related.

That is why I care about this case. I also care about it because it is a state case in Fulton County, Georgia — not Washington, D.C. — which means two things: 1) Trump cannot receive a federal pardon if he is convicted and, 2) Trump is much more likely to get a fair trial (especially in the public's eye) in Fulton County than deep-blue D.C.

I'm not making a presumption of Trump’s guilt or innocence. From the beginning I’ve said that this case was not the slam dunk many on the left made it out to be. This is what I wrote when we first saw this indictment:

Making the definitive case that the election was not stolen and that Trump and his associates named in the indictment acted criminally to change the outcome will be extremely difficult for Willis. Logistically, I have no idea how she plans to just get all these people in a courtroom before the 2024 election. Additionally, RICO cases are notoriously complicated, and I'm not entirely sure how the RICO statutes will hold up in this novel application.

All of that was true before this latest drama was injected into the case.

It’s obvious to me that Willis acted with very poor judgment, whether she gets booted from this case or not, and that alone is incredibly unfortunate. Anyone prosecuting such a far-reaching and consequential case needs to have unimpeachable credentials and character, and Willis can no longer make that claim. Now, regardless of if she stays on and gets a conviction, part of this story will be about her instead of Trump's guilt or innocence.

Personally, I found Willis's testimony at times convincing and at times grating. Ultimately, I left feeling like what she was accused of doing was not enough to disqualify her from the case, and I’d be a bit surprised if that is the outcome. To be totally frank, I don’t really care whether her relationship with Wade came before or after she hired him. If it happened before, it is a serious ethical lapse that deserves some kind of punishment, though removing her from the biggest case of her career after this public embarrassment feels a bit like overkill (unless there is evidence she changed her handling of the case because of their relationship). If it happened after, it is poor judgment and the public shaming has probably been enough punishment already. Either way, based on what we know now, their relationship had absolutely zero discernible impact on the indictment or charges against Trump.

In a piece calling for Willis to step aside, I thought Richard Painter neatly summed up why she shouldn’t be disqualified: "A conflict of interest disqualifies a prosecutor from a case only when the prosecutor’s conflict could prejudice the defendant. None of the factual allegations made by the defendants support an inference that such prejudice could exist in this case. In fact, the defendants are enjoying every minute of this side show, which is entirely irrelevant to the merits of the criminal case."

And yet, if a judge decides this ethical breach is enough to remove Willis and her team from the case, I’m not going to die on the hill trying to defend her. Fundamentally, the fact that she could have benefited financially from her appointment of Wade is enough to question keeping her on. Instead, I'll just be deeply disappointed that an attempt to hold the people who tried to undermine the 2020 election results accountable may not get its day in court.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: Did you listen to Ezra Klein's recent take on Biden stepping down? What are your thoughts on it? 

— John from Bogotá, Colombia

Tangle: I did. And I found it incredibly persuasive.

For those of you who missed it, Klein made the case in a 25-minute podcast monologue that President Biden should step aside and allow the Democratic party to tap his replacement. You can go read or listen to it here. He starts by making the case that Biden has been a good president and that everyone he speaks to who is close to Biden says he is genuinely running the show. I'm not going to get into those arguments here, but it’s what Klein says next that is the most interesting:

  • Biden is very clearly not the same man he was four years ago, and although he might be able to serve as president, he does not appear to be up for campaigning for president.
  • Trump is winning right now, and Democrats need an injection of something new to turn the tables.
  • It is not too late to change course.
  • Biden needs to realize that his legacy is on the line, and it’d be better for him to concede that it should be someone else and step down now.
  • Once he does that, Democrats could use the convention to pick a nominee, which would be an incredible spectacle and media bonanza that'd be good for the party.
  • There is a ton of talent on the Democratic bench behind Biden.
  • After days of speeches and jockeying for attention, whoever came out as the nominee wouldn't be Biden or Trump, and Democrats could say they listened to the country, and this candidate would immediately be at an advantage.

I think all of this is right. I actually think it is a pretty brilliant reframing of the choices Democrats have. Yes, it is in some ways "anti-democratic" because in this scenario the primaries (where Biden is destroying the other candidates) would be over and the party’s delegates would be the ones choosing. But that blame would mostly fall to Biden for taking so long to step down. And if or when he does, the party has only one option, which is taking it to the convention. On the upside, the delegates picking the next candidate would be representatives from each state, casting votes based on what they hear and see from voters and the candidates. It would have been better to have had a genuinely open primary, but putting alternatives forward at the convention is better than doing nothing at all. 

I also think the media spectacle — stealing the attention from Trump and doing something a bit radical to energize the Democratic base — would be very smart. It would be an absolute media blowout, with live speeches from Democrats nationally televised for days on end culminating with a massive reveal of the nominee, followed by all the earned media that nominee would get heading into November. Even better for Democrats is that it'd take weeks or months for the Republican party to gather the opposition research and framing to take the candidate down a notch.

Could it backfire? Definitely, and Klein acknowledges that. But I still think it’s a better option for the party than forcing a second Biden term on unenthusiastic Democratic voters, many of whom will only be casting a ballot to stop Trump.

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Under the radar.

Former President Trump is privately expressing support for a 16-week national abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Trump has avoided taking a clear position on abortion restrictions since the fall of Roe v. Wade, which has been followed by a series of electoral wins for Democrats. According to reports, Trump has reportedly been vetting vice presidents based on their abortion stances, insisting Republicans will continue to lose elections if they don't include the three exceptions in their position. The New York Times has the story.


  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who say Trump should have been charged with a crime in the Georgia case, according to an August 2023 poll from ABC News/Ipsos. 
  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who say that the charges in Georgia against Trump are politically motivated. 
  • 69%. The percentage of Georgia voters who said the charges against Trump in Fani Willis’s indictment were very serious or somewhat serious in a November 2023 survey from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  • 68%. The percentage of Georgia voters who say Trump was wrong to ask Georgia officials to change the outcome of the 2020 election.
  • 45%-44%. Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden in Georgia in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, according to a November 2023 poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The extras.

Thursday’s poll: The feedback has been supportive, so we’ll be sharing our survey results as charts rather than descriptions. But we’ve also heard your suggestions for improvements, and are exploring ways to improve the presentation of our survey results.

What do you think of the Fani Willis case? Should she be recused? Should the case proceed? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

At a weekend swim meet in Saanich, British Columbia, Betty Brussel broke the existing world record in the 400-meter freestyle by an incredible four minutes. She was three times slower than the Olympic record, but Brussel is now the record holder in the 100-104 age group. That same day, she set the records for the 50-meter backstroke and the 50-meter breaststroke, as well. Brussel first took interest in competitive swimming in her mid-sixties, when she raced in the British Columbia Senior Games. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. But she was hooked. Since then, she’s kept the same routine, going to the pool to swim twice a week with no drills. “What can I say? I’m a bit lazy.” The Guardian has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.