Judge to hear closing arguments over removing Fani Willis from Trump case

Atlanta — Closing arguments are set to kick off Friday in a bid by former President Donald Trump and several of his co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her office over allegations that Willis engaged in a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

The proceeding before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee caps a series of extraordinary hearings held after Michael Roman, a longtime GOP operative charged alongside Trump, alleged in January that Willis and Wade had an “improper” romantic relationship, and that the district attorney financially benefited from it.

Trump and several others joined Roman’s effort to disqualify Willis, Wade and her office from prosecuting the racketeering case against them. They are seeking to have the charges against them dismissed.

Roman claimed that the relationship between Wade and Willis began before she hired him as special prosecutor in the case against Trump in early November 2021. The two admitted in a court filing that they did have a personal relationship, but said it started in 2022.

Both Willis and Wade testified during evidentiary hearings last month and divulged personal details about their relationship, financial affairs and travels to places like Napa Valley, Belize and Aruba. During several hours on the witness stand, Willis forcefully defended herself from accusations she acted improperly and financially benefited from Wade’s hiring.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis takes the stand as a witness during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta.  / Credit: Alyssa Pointer / AP

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis takes the stand as a witness during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. / Credit: Alyssa Pointer / AP

Defense attorneys claimed that Wade paid for hotel rooms, cruises and getaways, though both prosecutors said they split the costs associated with their travels and that Willis often reimbursed Wade in cash. To demonstrate that Willis typically used cash to cover expenses, on Tuesday prosecutors filed an affidavit from Stan Brody, who worked at a winery in Napa that she and Wade visited last year. Brody asserted that Willis paid $400 in cash for two bottles of wine and a tasting.

The district attorney had accused Ashleigh Merchant, Roman’s attorney, of spreading lies and “salacious” rumors.

“You’ve been intrusive into people’s personal lives,” Willis said during her testimony Feb. 16. “You’re confused. You think I’m on trial. 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.”

The timeline surrounding Willis and Wade’s relationship has emerged as a crucial issue in the effort to kick the district attorney and her office off the case. Willis’ former longtime friend, Robin Yeartie, claimed the relationship with Wade pre-dated his appointment on Nov. 1, 2021. Yeartie testified that she witnessed the couple being affectionate with one another.

Defense attorneys also questioned Terrence Bradley, Wade’s former law partner and divorce attorney, about his communications with Wade and text messages he exchanged with Merchant about the relationship between the two prosecutors before she filed a motion exposing their private dealings.

After asserting attorney-client privilege while testifying twice last month, Bradley was called back to the stand at a hearing Wednesday. He said he had been “speculating” when he told Merchant in a message that the relationship between Wade and Willis started before Wade’s hiring. Bradley repeatedly said he had no direct knowledge of when it began.

Prosecutors sought to discredit both Bradley and Yeartie. They revealed during the evidentiary hearing last month that Bradley left the firm he shared with Wade following an accusation of sexual assault. Bradley forcefully denied the allegation, and said earlier this week that he has not spoken to Wade in more than a year.

Lawyers with the district attorney’s office also said Yeartie left her job there on poor terms after she was told she could either resign or be terminated. Willis testified last month that she has not spoken with Yeartie for more than a year, and said she “betrayed” their friendship.

It’s unclear when McAfee will make a decision on whether to remove Willis and her office from the matter involving Trump, but the controversy over her romantic relationship with Wade has cast a shadow over the prosecution and derailed the case for several weeks. Trump and his allies face charges over alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Several original co-defendants have taken plea deals, while the remaining defendants have all pleaded not guilty.

Heading into Friday’s hearing, there are still lingering disputes over evidence that both sides have sought to admit. Defense attorneys want McAfee to admit Wade’s cellphone data as evidence, claiming it shows he was in the vicinity of a condo Willis rented from Yeartie in Hapeville, south of Atlanta, at least three dozen times in 2021. They said testimony about location data from Wade’s phone show that he was near Willis’ condo late at night and into the early morning hours in the months before he was tapped as special prosecutor.

Prosecutors have also said Brody, who worked at the Napa winery that Wade and Willis visited, is available to testify Friday if the court declines to accept his affidavit.

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