Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney prosecuting Donald Trump for alleged election interference, has acknowledged having a “personal relationship” with the outside lawyer she appointed to lead the case — potentially imperiling it.
Here’s what’s going on and what could happen.
One of Trump’s co-defendants, Mike Roman, accused Willis of having a relationship with the case’s lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade. Roman, who worked for Trump’s 2020 campaign and has done opposition research for Republicans, alleged that Willis benefited financially from prosecuting Trump because she took personal trips with Wade on his dime.
Neither Willis nor Wade responded to the accusations for nearly a month. In a court filing Friday, Willis acknowledged the relationship with Wade but denied claims that the relationship had tainted the proceedings. Wade said in an included affidavit that he did not share his compensation with Willis and that the two split travel expenses “equally.”
Roman is charged with helping set up a scheme to create alternative slates of pro-Trump electors in Georgia, and he has asked the judge overseeing the case to disqualify Willis’s office and have the charges against him thrown out. Trump and another co-defendant have joined Roman’s motion. In doing so, Trump’s lawyer also accused Willis of making statements outside a courtroom that could influence a future jury.
Roman has yet to include evidence to back up the allegations that Willis benefited financially from prosecuting Trump. Here’s what we know, and what Willis has said about it.
Credit card statements revealed in divorce filings between Wade and his estranged wife show that he purchased airline tickets for himself and Willis to San Francisco and Aruba. Wade said the two split travel expenses.Wills said in the filing that she and Wade have completely separate financial lives. She added: “Both are professionals with substantial income; neither is financially reliant on the other.”Wade said in his affidavit that there was “no personal relationship” between him and Willis “prior to or at the time” he was appointed. In 2022, as the investigation was underway, Wade said he and Willis “developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship.”The allegations have brought attention to Wade’s limited prosecutorial experience, and Willis has said she actually looked for higher-profile lawyers to take the job before hiring Wade. Since hiring Wade to be lead prosecutor in the Trump case more than two years ago, Willis’s office has paid his law firm more than $653,000. Willis responded to this, too, in her court filing, saying: “Wade has long distinguished himself as an exceptionally talented litigator with significant trial experience.”
Willis is adamant that she and Wade did not break any laws, writing: “Conflict arises when a prosecutor has a personal interest or stake in a defendant’s conviction — a charge that no defendant offers any support for beyond fantastical theories and rank speculation. Georgia law requires far more.”
But Willis’s judgment is now in question. And that alone could influence a future jury, said Robert James, a former district attorney in Georgia.
Even if she didn’t financially benefit from partnering with Wade, Willis campaigned for office on her integrity and ethics and told voters she wouldn’t be romantically involved with subordinates.
“I certainly will not be choosing people to date that work under me. Let me just say that,” she said in 2020.
Trump and his allies have seized on all of this to delegitimize the charges against him, both in Georgia and elsewhere.
“It’s a gift to us,” a Trump adviser told The Washington Post.
Willis has accused her accusers of playing “the race card” in attacking her and Wade, who are both Black.
Trump is accused of heading up a broad scheme to overturn his loss in Georgia, and he is charged under the state’s anti-racketeering law, which was originally used to take down mob bosses.
The indictment against Trump is extensive, with a lot of evidence, and this case carries with it a high possibility of jail time if Trump is convicted, say legal experts. Four of his co-defendants, three of them former lawyers on his campaign, have pleaded guilty. Some legal experts worry that the accusations against Willis will distract from the serious charges facing Trump.
What happens now is up to the judge overseeing the entire Trump case. The judge has scheduled a hearing about this on Feb. 15. Willis and Wade may have to testify, and Willis’s accusers may be able to bring forward any evidence they have. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee could remove Willis from the case — or not make any changes and keep the case moving.
If Willis is essentially fired from the case, a state council that oversees prosecutors could appoint someone else. That could take a while. And a new prosecutor might look at the case with fresh eyes and drop some or all of the charges. All of this will probably delay when Trump’s trial could begin. Right now, there is no trial date, and it’s possible that it won’t start before the November presidential election. Removing Willis from the case could push it back much further.
Willis is also facing potential investigations from various state agencies, many of them controlled by Republicans: the Georgia Senate, a state oversight board and a state ethics commission.
This has been updated with the latest news.