Trump legal news brief: Trump lawyers ask judge to admit cellphone records in push to disqualify DA Fani Willis

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump ask Judge Scott McAffee to allow cellphone records to be used in his decision on whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Wilis and lead prosecutor Nathan Wade from the Georgia election interference case. Trump’s lawyers also appeal New York Judge Arthur Engoron’s $454 million judgment in the financial fraud case. Here are the latest developments in the legal cases against the man seeking to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Georgia election interference

Trump lawyers seek to admit cellphone records obtained by private investigator

Key players: Trump lawyers Steven Sadow and Jennifer Little, Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade, private investigator Charles Mittelstadt

  • On Monday, Sadow and Little filed a motion with McAfee, asking the judge to admit cellphone records for Wade that they say show he and Willis lied in court about when their romantic relationship began, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

  • Lawyers for Trump and other defendants have argued that Willis should be removed from handling the case because, they allege, she benefited financially from her relationship with Wade, who paid for vacations with Willis, who hired him. Willis and Wade testified earlier this month that they split expenses on those trips and that their relationship does not represent a conflict of interest.

  • Willis and Wade also both testified that they did not begin their sexual relationship until 2022, after Willis had hired Wade to lead the prosecution of Trump and 18 others charged with crimes stemming from their efforts to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia.

  • Trump’s lawyers hired Mittlestadt, who used online analytics tools to track Wade’s cellphone activity. In an affidavit, Mittlestat said the data he obtained showed that Wade visited Willis’s neighborhood multiple times in 2011, that the two talked on the phone more than 2,000 times in the first 11 months of 2021 and that they exchanged almost 11,000 text messages.

  • The Fulton County prosecutors countered that the cellphone records do not show proof that Willis or Wade lied about their relationship.

  • McAfee has stated that in order for him to disqualify Willis or Wade, the defense needs to show that the two lawyers brought their prosecution of Trump in order to financially benefit from the case, USA Today reported.

  • The judge has scheduled another hearing on Friday, March 1, on whether to remove Wade and Willis.

Why it matters: If McAfee decides to remove Willis or Wade from prosecuting Trump and his co-defendants, that could deal a potentially fatal blow to what many legal observers consider the strongest criminal case the former president faces and would almost certainly delay it until after the 2024 election.

New York financial fraud

Trump appeals $454 million fraud judgment

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Trump lawyer Alina Habba

  • On Monday, Trump appealed Engoron’s ruling that he must pay $454 million in penalties and interest for years of fraudulent business practices in New York, CBS News reported.

  • Trump asked an intermediate-level state appellate court to overturn Engoron’s ruling, which gives the former president, his adult sons and members of the Trump Organization 30 days to begin paying.

  • In order to qualify for a stay of Engoron’s decision during the appeal, however, Trump will be obliged to pony up the entire amount of the judgment as a bond. So far, Trump has yet to do so, according to a spokesperson for James.

  • If Trump were to fork over the $454 million as his appeal played out, the money would go into an escrow account and would be returned to Trump if the appeals court ruled the massive fines were an overreach by Engoron.

  • Every day that Trump does not pay the full amount of the judgment, he accrues more than $100,000 in interest.

  • “We trust that the Appellate Division will overturn this egregious fine and take the necessary steps to restore the public faith in New York’s legal system,” Habba told CBS News in a statement.

  • James’s office did not offer any comment on Trump’s appeal.

Why it matters: While Trump’s appeal contends that Engoron “committed errors of law” in his decision to wallop Trump, his adult sons and members of the Trump Organization with hefty fines, simply filing the appeal does not get them off the hook from paying it in the short term.

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