Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis acknowledged entering a personal relationship with a prosecutor who is helping lead her case against Donald Trump but said it has no bearing on her handling of the probe.
Rather, she said, efforts by Trump and his co-defendants to disqualify her from the case due to the relationship were a “public relations strategy” meant to hamstring the prosecution.
In a 176-page filing on Friday, Willis disputed claims that her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade posed a conflict of interest, and she denied she was improperly enriched by the Trump case. Last month, one of Trump’s co-defendants alleged in court documents that Wade has used income he earned from the case to pay for lavish trips with Willis.
Willis’ filing — her first formal response to the allegations of misconduct — said she and Wade were not romantically involved when she hired him as a contract attorney in November 2021 to help run her probe of efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.
In 2022, the two prosecutors “developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship,” according to a sworn statement by Wade that was included in the filing.
Willis, however, argued the relationship did not violate any ethics rules and that there is no reason it should derail the case. She also defended Wade’s credentials and billing practices.
Willis called the effort to disqualify her office “malicious” and urged Judge Scott McAfee to cancel a hearing, scheduled for Feb. 15, on the allegations of misconduct.
“This is not an example of zealous advocacy, nor is it a good faith effort to develop a record on a disputed legal issue — it is a ticket to the circus,” the filing said.
In August 2023, Willis obtained an indictment of Trump and 18 others under the state’s organized crime statute. The case — one of four criminal cases Trump is facing — does not yet have a trial date.
Wade has little experience prosecuting complex, high-profile cases. But in pretrial proceedings in the Trump case, he has been one of the lead prosecutors, frequently arguing in court on behalf of the district attorney’s office.
On Jan. 8, one of the defendants in the case — a former Trump campaign official named Mike Roman — alleged in a court filing that Willis and Wade were engaged in “an improper, clandestine personal relationship during the pendency of this case” and had been “profiting significantly” from the money Wade earned from his contract to work on the case.
Wade was paid nearly $700,000 over two years by the DA’s office, according to court documents filed in Wade’s divorce case.
Roman also argued that Willis did not have the legal power to make Wade a special prosecutor, and that his role in the indictment should invalidate the charges altogether.
Willis disputed that claim in her Friday filing, saying that prosecutors commonly hire outside counsel and she had the authority to hire Wade.
In addition to Wade, Willis has contracted with two other outside lawyers who are working on the case as special prosecutors.
“Spurious allegations of publicity-seeking aside, it must be made clear that District Attorney Willis did not go looking for this case,” reads Willis’ filing. “These Defendants centered their racketeering conspiracy to disrupt and overturn the 2020 Georgia election in Fulton County, committing crimes that provided a venue in this jurisdiction. The motions are based on guesswork and public relations strategy, not legal argument.”
Willis seeded the filing with swipes at other attorneys in the case, writing that two of the defense lawyers are also known to be romantically involved and that another pair of attorneys were married. Neither of those relationships, she added, are grounds for controversy.
“Until Roman’s motion was filed, the private lives of the attorney participants in this trial was not a topic of discussion,” she argued.
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