Cash, objections and overseas trips: Key revelations from Trump prosecutor Fani Willis’ hearing

Closing arguments in a weeks-long misconduct hearing took place in an Atlanta courtroom where the future of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ role in the Georgia election interference case against former president Donald Trump is being determined.

The defence has scrutinised the timeline of the relationship between Ms Willis and the special prosecutor she hired, Nathan Wade. The pair have not disputed the relationship, but defence attorneys for the former president allege that the elected district attorney abused her office by financially benefiting from the case by hring a romantic partner.

Hearings in mid-February revealed intimate details of their current and former relationships, which Mr Wade described as “private but not a secret,” as well as the friendship between Ms Willis and a former employee in her office.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has said that Ms Willis and her team could be disqualified if the allegations are substantiated, which would then trigger a re-appointment process that could continue to delay a major criminal case against the former president.

Here are some key revelations from the two-day hearing:

Relationship timeline

Nathan Wade wrote in a sworn affidavit that he did not start a romantic relationship with Ms Willis until 2022. He supported this claim in his testimony on 15 February, adding that his their relationship began in March 2022.

Ms Willis, when she testified, said their relationship began in “early 2022,” which she then estimated as April 2022.

These testimonies suggest that they started dating after Mr Wade was hired by Ms Willis in November 2021.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case (AP)
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case (AP)

Robin Bryant-Yeartie, who first testified on 15 February, told the court that she believed the pair began dating in November 2019, not long after the pair met at a municipal court judges conference in October.

Mr Wade revealed that the pair are not still together romantically, as of June 2023, but remain good friends.

When Ms Willis was asked when they stopped dating she replied that “he’s a man. I’m betting he would say June or July,” when they were no longer “physical”. Ms Willis testified that they had a “tough conversation” and ended the relationship in August of last year, before the indictment against Mr Trump and his co-defendants.

She added that their relationship’s end had “nothing to do” with the indictment.

Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade looks on during a hearing in the case of State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 15 February 2024 (EPA)
Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade looks on during a hearing in the case of State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 15 February 2024 (EPA)

Friendship between Ms Willis and Ms Bryant-Yeartie

Ms Bryant-Yeartie told the court that she first met Ms Willis in college in 1990.

She aid she last spoke to Ms Willis in March 2022. They were good friends and later worked together at the DA’s office.

In her testimony, Ms Willis had a totally different take on their relationship. She said they partied together while they were both in college — although they attended different schools in different states.

“I haven’t spoken to her in over a year. I certainly do not consider her a friend now... I think that she betrayed our friendship,” Ms Willlis said.

Ms Bryant-Yeartie also said that Ms Willis leased a condo she owned in April 2021, adding that Ms Willis took over her lease after moving out from her house in South Fulton shortly after she faced death threats upon her election to office.

“I never lived with her,” Ms Bryant-Yeartie said.

Ms Willis also agreed with the timeline, but took issue with how Ms Bryant-Yeartie portrayed the circumstances in which Ms Willis rented her condo. “That’s a lie,” she said.

Ms Willis said that she chose to move to the condo because her father was “terribly concerned” and urged her to leave her house due to the threats the familiy receieved.

Witness Robin Yeartie appears on a screen as she is sworn in during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v Donald Trump (Getty Images)
Witness Robin Yeartie appears on a screen as she is sworn in during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v Donald Trump (Getty Images)

Cash payments

Ms Willis testified that she often paid in cash and had reimbursed Mr Wade for trips that the couple went on — a disclosure that also seemingly poked holes in the defence’s questioning of Mr Wade’s financial statements.

During Mr Wade’s testimony, the prosecutor was asked about all of the charges on his Capital One card, which seem to suggest that he had paid for a series of trips with Ms Willis to Belize, Aruba and elsewhere.

Mr Wade explained to the court that he booked a lot of these trips for “safety reasons,” given the high-profile nature of the election fraud case against Mr Trump, and that she paid him back in cash.

Ms Willis explained that her father once told her she should always have six months of cash stored in her house or “wherever I lay my head.”

Mr Wade testified that she always reimbursed him: “She’s a very independent, proud woman so she’s going to insist she carries her own weight ... She’s going to pay her own way.”

“I dont need anybody to foot my bills,” Ms Willis said.

Ms Willis eager to clarify the allegations against her, the timeline of her relationship, and how she handled payments for trips and meals between them, and how the relationship ultimately came to an end.

“He told me one time: the only thing a woman can do for me is make me a sandwich,” she said. “We would have brutal arguments about the fact that he was my equal … There was tension, always, in our relationship … I don’t need anything from a man. A man is not a plan. A man is a companion.”

On 16 February, defence attorneys also questioned Ms Willis’s father John Clifford Floyd III about his daughter’s use of cash, prompting Mr Floyd – who is Black – to deliver a history lesson about racist discrimination and to defend a habit that he taught his daughter.

“I’m not trying to be racist but it’s a Black thing,” he said. “Most Black folks, they hide cash or keep cash … You always keep some cash.”

He explained that a restaurant rejected his credit cards and traveller’s cheques while he was a fellow at Harvard University, “just because of the colour of my skin.”

“I told my daughter, ‘You keep six months of cash, always,” he said. “I gave my daughter her first cash box and told her always keep some cash.”

Fani Willis’ fiery testimony

Ms Willis did not seem to hold back any emotion at the hearing, evident from the moment she burst into the court.

“I’m ready to go,” Ms Willis announced as she entered the courtroom on 15 February. She testified that she ran to the courtroom after she heard Mr Wade’s testimony had ended because she thought she would be called next to the stand.

“I’ve been very anxious to have this conversation with you today,” Ms Willis told defence attorney Ashleigh Merchant. “It’s ridiculous that you lied on Monday and yet here we are. ... I’m actually surprised that the hearing continued. But since it did, here I am.”

After Ms Willis explained her money habits, Ms Merchant suggested that Ms Willis “doesn’t know where that cash came from” when she reimbursed Mr Wade for various trips.

“You are mischaracterizing my testimony greatly,” Ms Willis said. She added the money “came from my sweat and tears.”

She accused Ms Merchant of repeatedly mischaracterising her testimony and repeating “lies” about her personal life in her questions to Ms Willis and in court filings.

“You’re confused. You think I’m on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020,” she said. “I’m not on trial. No matter how hard you try to put me on trial.”


Up close and personal

The lines of questioning from attorneys for Mr Trump and his co-defendants often veered into deeply personal questions, with Ms Willis eager to clarify the allegations against her in her heated testimony.

Ms Willis said she found it “highly offensive” that the lawyer implied that Ms Willis had slept with Mr Wade the first time she met him.

Mr Wade also was pressed about the start of their relationship. Mr Wade said he was battling cancer in 2020 so he mostly stayed inside, in a “sterile” environment, especially given the Covid-19 pandemic. So, he said, he wasn’t dating: “I had health on my mind.”

The defence also made assertions that Mr Wade was untruthful in his interrogatories in his divorce proceedings. During 15 February’s hearing, Ms Merchant alleged that Mr Wade said he hadn’t had an affair with anyone in the divorce case, but told the court in the election interference case that he had had an affair in 2022.

Mr Wade undermined this claim, clarifying, “My marriage was irretrievably broken in 2015,” claiming that his wife had an affair and they stayed together for their children.

“Because my marriage was irretrievably broken, I was free to have a relationship,” he said. “I did not have a relationship with anyone during the course of my marriage.”

The pair also discussed the fact that they didn’t publicise their romantic relationship, putting to rest some rumours. Their testimonies underscored that a decision wasn’t out of secrecy, but rather out of preference.

“We’re private people. Our relationship isn’t a secret. It was just private,” Mr Wade said.

Ms Bryant-Yeartie, however, told the court that she had observed the couple “hugging and kissing.”

While she was on the stand, Ms Willis also said that she hadn’t discussed their romantic relationship with others in the DA’s office.

Willis’s father testifies to ‘nightmarish threats’

Testimony from Ms Willis’s father, a longtime civil rights activist who lived with Ms Willis, detailed the threats that the family faced shortly after she took office in early 2021, which prompted her move.

“There were people outside her house, cursing and yelling and calling her the b-word and the n-word” in February of that year, Mr Floyd testified on 16 February.

He said that “there had been so many death threats and they said they were gonna blow up the house, they were gonna kill me, they were gonna kill my grandchildren ... I was concerned for her safety.”

Mr Floyd said he continued to live in his daughter’s South Fulton home until the end of 2022 as the family continued to face “nightmare threats”.

“Things got so bad and threats got so many … that the house became basically uninhabitable,” he said.

‘Star witness’

Donald Trump’s defence attorneys’ hopes about the revelatory material they could draw out from their purported “star witness” Terrence Bradley, Mr Wade’s divorce attorney and former law partner, were dashed on 27 February. Defence attorneys seemed to believe that Mr Bradley could shed light on when Ms Willis and Mr Wade’s alleged relationship began — to no avail.

Ms Merchant repeatedly asked Mr Bradley about whether Ms Willis and Mr Wade started a relationship in 2019, conflicting with the 2022 relationship start date that both Ms Willis and Mr Wade testified to.

“I have no personal knowledge of when [the start of any relationship between Wade and Willis] actually happened. I was not there. I do not have any personal knowledge,” Mr Bradley told the court.

Ms Merchant then presented texts and an email from Mr Bradley during her information-gathering stages of this investigation.

“Do you think it started before she hired him?’ And you said, ‘Absolutely,’” she said.

“Do you recall me asking how they would react? Would they attack me? And you told me that they would deny it,” Ms Merchant continued.

Mr Bradley repeatedly testified that he was merely “speculating.”

Donald Trump’s attorney, Steve Sadow, also pressed Mr Bradley about the text messages.

“Why in the heck would you speculate in this text message?” the defence attorney asked.

“You don’t want to admit it in court,” he continued. “What you want the court to believe and what you want the rest of us to believe … you decided on your own to simply speculate and put it down in a text message.”

His highly-anticipated testimony arrived after much back-and-forth about what Mr Bradley would be able to say due to attorney-client privilege. A judge ultimately ruled his potential testimony about Ms Willis and Mr Wade’s relationship would fall outside of that scope, so he was able to take the stand.

The defence’s closing arguments

Closing arguments in the weeks-long hearing began on 1 March. The defence’s closings focused on money that was allegedly unaccounted for between Ms Willis and cell tower records in an effort to showcase inconsistencies in their testimonies.

John Merchant, the attorney husband of Ms Merchant, delivered the defence’s closing arguments. He argued that there is still more than $9,200 unaccounted for from Fani Willis to Nathan Wade.

“We could frankly care less if they had a personal relationship outside of work. That’s not what’s at issue here,” he said.

He alleges they started dating in 2019, despite testimony and sworn statements from Willis and Wade that they started dating two years later, after he was hired, and then ended the relationship before the indictment.“

She awarded him a contract, where public money either from Fulton County or the state of Georgia ended up in his pockets,” he said. “Then he and she used that money to go on personal vacations and trips.”

Steve Sadow, Mr Trump’s attorney, argued that the judge could determine that Ms Willis and Mr Wade lied on the stand, and that Mr Bradley spoke “clear-cut lies” when he “did everything he possibly could do to evade answering questions.”

Defence attorney Richard Rice then pointed to cell phone records and texts in 2019 and 2021 between the pair, saying: “I don’t even think lovestruck teenagers text that much.”

“Teenagers have a name for those kinds of calls and I won’t get into that here,” he added.

Harry McDougal, another attorney for the defence, capped off the team’s closing arguments by claiming that the DA’s office engaged in a pattern of “concealment and coverup,” citing Ms Willis’ speech that she gave at a church on Martin Luther King Day as an example of a “disqualifying” action and an effort to “deflect attention from her own misconduct and that of Mr Wade.”

“This office is a global laughingstock because of their conduct. They should be disqualified and the case should be dismissed,” he concluded.

The prosecution’s closing arguments

The state’s closings centred around the “misleading” evidence, like cell tower records, presented by the defence to “impugn” Ms Willis’ character while also pointing out the toll that the Trump case — and now the hearings — have taken on Ms Willis.

the prosecutors argued that this was a "desperate attempt" to remove a prosecutor from a case, adding that the defence’s questioning was an attempt to “embarrass and harass” ms Willis and “impugn her character.” On top of this, all of the people who were subpoenaed to testify about their relationship did not testify, the state argued.

The state also argued that the texts do not “pinpoint” that the relationship started in 2019, as the defence tried to prove. Prosecutor Adam Abbate tried to poke holes in the defence’s cell tower records, saying they do not show Mr Wade connecting with Ms Willis, highlighting the timeline and location of the cell phone pings do not align with where and when Ms Willis’ residences.

For example, the defence said their relationship began in October 2019, but his phone never pinged towers in South Fulton – where she lived at the time, until March 2021. His phone pinged cell towers near Hapeville from January 2021 to March 2021, but Ms Willis wasn’t living there then.

Instead, Mr Abbate emphasised that the evidence from the hearings shows “there was a true cost” to being the Fulton County district attorney. He highlighted a series of precautions that Ms Willis had to take to stay safe.

Due to threats, she had to pay for a “safe house” apartment — in addition to the mortgage on her home which she was forced to leave.

She also endured racist and sexist attacks, threats to her safety, isolation from family and friends, and “cruel statements and falsehoods” leaked to media — including those made about her daughter — in an attempt to undermine her.