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Fani Willis Scandal: How An Alleged Romantic Relationship With A Prosecutor Could Upend Trump’s Criminal Trial

Fani Willis Scandal: How An Alleged Romantic Relationship With A Prosecutor Could Upend Trump’s Criminal Trial

Topline

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has become embroiled in rumors of an alleged relationship with a special prosecutor she appointed to work on the criminal election subversion case against former President Donald Trump, drawing Trump’s ire—though a judge ruled Monday she won’t have to be deposed in her colleague’s divorce proceedings, yet.

A judge on Monday ruled Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis does not have to sit for a … [+] deposition in her colleague’s divorce proceedings—yet. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Key Facts

Willis was first accused of having a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade earlier this month, when an attorney for one of Trump’s co-defendants, Michael Roman, filed paperwork seeking her—and Wade’s—disqualification from the case for violating conflict of interest laws and mishandling public money.

Roman’s team alleged the two had an “improper, clandestine personal relationship” before the prosecution began that resulted in Wade being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money for his role as special prosecutor (the attorney cited unnamed sources close to Wade and Willis but didn’t provide concrete evidence).

Roman’s attorney also alleged Wade isn’t qualified for the position Willis appointed him to, arguing he doesn’t have the appropriate background to try the case and hasn’t “prosecuted a single felony trial”—and the New York Times also reported Wade’s experience was primarily in low-level criminal cases, and there was no evidence he worked on racketeering cases like the one that ensnared Roman and Trump.

The same day the accusation against Willis and Wade was made, Willis was subpoenaed by the lawyer of Joycelyn Wade, Nathan Wade’s wife, to testify in the couple’s divorce proceedings.

Last week, bank records revealed in the Wades’ divorce case showed Willis and Nathan Wade had taken at least two trips together in 2022 and 2023 for which he paid, something Joycelyn’s team argued has “no reasonable explanation … apart from a romantic relationship.”

Joycelyn Wade’s legal team is seeking to depose Willis on allegations that she has “unique” information about Wade’s finances, which her lawyer argues are relevant in determining dissipation of assets and spousal support.

News Peg

On Monday, a Cobb County judge ruled to unseal the Wades’ divorce records—which could give insight into Nathan Wade alleged relationship with Willis—but ruled Willis doesn’t need to be deposed in the divorce case, yet, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson said it appeared that “Wade would be the first and best source of information on what his income has been and how he’s been spending it,” ABC News reported, adding he would wait to determine whether Willis has “unique personal knowledge” and has to testify until after Wade’s deposition, which is scheduled for next week.

Contra

Neither Willis nor Nathan Wade have commented on the alleged relationship, but after Roman’s initial filing, a spokesperson for Willis said she would respond “through appropriate court filings.” After allegations first broke, Willis defended Nathan Wade at a church service—though she didn’t name him—saying he was “a great friend and a great lawyer.” On Jan. 18, Willis filed a motion in which she accused Joycelyn Wade of “obstructing and interfering with an ongoing criminal prosecution” and trying to “annoy, embarrass and oppress” her. Willis added she shouldn’t have to testify because the Wades’ marriage is “irretrievably broken,” meaning no testimony from her would be “relevant to granting or denying the divorce.”

Key Background

Willis charged Roman, Trump and 17 other co-defendants for their efforts to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia in 2020. Trump faces 13 charges, including conspiracy to impersonate a public officer and a violation of Georgia’s racketeering and corrupt organizations (RICO) act—which all Trump co-defendants were charged with. Roman is accused of participating in a plot to appoint fake pro-Trump electors in Georgia. Wade was appointed by Willis to be a special prosecutor on the case, and had previously worked as a prosecutor and a judge, but had little experience prosecuting major criminal cases or cases around the state’s racketeering statute, according to the New York Times. Wade had been a “longtime friend and mentor” to Willis when she hired him, the Times reported, and had become someone she could trust with a case as important as the Trump case.

Big Number

$654,000. That’s about how much Nathan Wade has earned in legal fees for his work on the Trump election case, the Journal-Constitution reported. Wade was hired to work on the case in November 2021 and was set to be paid an hourly rate of $250, according to the New York Times.

What To Watch For

How the allegations impact the trial against Trump and his co-defendants. The judge overseeing the trial has told Willis to respond to Roman’s allegations by early February, with a hearing scheduled for Feb. 15. In the meantime, Trump has capitalized on the scandal, posting on Truth Social on Jan. 19 that the “lovers” knew he didn’t do anything wrong but “saw Dollar Signs, Fancy Living, and Fame,” so they falsely indicted him. One unnamed Trump adviser told the Washington Post the situation was a “gift,” saying they can use the allegations to discredit the case and raise speculation and potentially extend a decision in the case. If Willis, Wade or the DA’s office as a whole are disqualified, the Washington Post reported a statewide council of attorneys would be tasked with finding a new prosecutor, which could delay the case significantly.

What We Don’t Know

The accusations against Willis and Wade haven’t yet impacted their case against Trump, and some legal analysts don’t think the pair need to be removed—which Roman’s filing requested. Three well-known attorneys and critics of Trump—Norm Eisen, Joyce Vance and Richard Painter—penned a piece in Just Security that said a prosecutor can only be disqualified under Georgia law if there is a “conflict of interest” in which the conflicting loyalties could “prejudice the defendant” and lead to “an improper conviction.” Allegations of ethics violations that don’t have anything to do with the trial, the attorneys wrote, cannot be used to get attorneys removed from a case. That said, one of the authors, Eisen, told reporters over the weekend Wade should step aside as the controversy could overshadow and delay the case, the Washington Post reported.

Further Reading

ajcJudge unseals divorce case involving Fulton Trump prosecutorMORE FROM FORBESTrump Co-Defendant Alleges DA Fani Willis Appointed ‘Romantic Partner’ As ProsecutorBy Antonio Pequeño IVMORE FROM FORBESTrump Prosecutor Fani Willis Subpoenaed To Testify In Divorce Case Of Alleged Romantic Partner, Report SaysBy Antonio Pequeño IVMORE FROM FORBESFulton DA Willis Accuses Deputy’s Wife Of ‘Interfering’ In Trump Election Interference CaseBy Brian BushardNytimesHow Allegations of an Office Romance Came to Complicate the Case Against Trump

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