A current and former law partner to Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor leading the 2020 election subversion case in Georgia, have been told to expect a subpoena to testify at a hearing next month on whether he and the district attorney who brought the case should be disqualified over their alleged affair and financial ties, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
The district attorney, Fani Willis, also is expected to be subpoenaed, sources say, and possibly others in her office.
The Fulton County judge overseeing the criminal case against former President Donald Trump and his allies called for the hearing to address claims from one of Trump’s co-defendants that Willis and Wade have a conflict of interest. Citing financial statements turned up in Wade’s current divorce proceeding, lawyers for Trump’s co-defendant, Mike Roman, argue that Willis financially benefited when Wade took her on lavish vacations after she hired him as special prosecutor.
“We’ve got a lot of information. We’ve got a lot of documents and a lot of witnesses,” Roman’s defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant told CNN when asked if she will issue subpoenas for witness testimony at the hearing, scheduled for February 15.
Roman has argued that the entire criminal case against him should be dismissed because of the alleged conflict of interest. While those familiar with the case say the allegations are not likely to derail the sprawling racketeering case Willis has built against Trump and his 14 remaining co-defendants, they have proven a significant distraction and given Trump and his allies ample fodder to claim the case is the result of a corrupt justice system out to get him.
Merchant said the evidence she presents at the hearing, including who she may call to the witness stand, will in part depend on what Willis says in response to the allegations. Judge Scott McAfee has ordered Willis to respond in writing by February 2.
Willis would likely fight any subpoenas for her or her staff. She is already trying to quash a subpoena to be deposed in Wade’s divorce proceeding.
Willis has asked to go to trial in August, but a trial date hasn’t been set.
Hearing would be live-streamed
Like all hearings in the Georgia 2020 election case, any witness testimony about the alleged romantic relationship between Willis and Wade – claims that have already prompted immense public scrutiny since coming to light in recent weeks – would be broadcast in real time via live stream.
Speaking to CNN’s Dana Bash on Thursday, Michael Moore, a former US Attorney in Georgia and a CNN legal analyst, said the allegations aren’t “necessarily the death blow to whether or not a case can move forward but it’s becoming a distraction and a circus.”
Moore said it wouldn’t surprise him if the judge takes control of the hearing to limit the distraction. “And that is to say, look we’re not going to turn this into an episode of Knots Landing here in the courtroom,” Moore said.
Willis and Wade have not directly addressed the affair allegations.
Willis told a church congregation on January 14 that Wade is qualified for the job and that her adversaries were targeting her and Wade because of race, asking, “Isn’t it them playing the race card?”
Despite having more experienced felony prosecutors on her staff, Willis appointed Wade to the post in 2021 when her investigation into the actions of Trump and his allies following the 2020 election was heating up.
Wade has earned more than $650,000 for his work on the election case, according to Roman’s court filing, which includes invoices from Wade’s firm. The filing alleges that Wade made more than other prosecutors in the DA’s office.
Willis and Wade now face the prospect of having to potentially confront explosive witness testimony in front of an audience that extends well beyond the courtroom.
Merchant told CNN Wednesday that she would prefer to focus on the issue of potential financial impropriety rather than the alleged romantic relationship itself, saying: “I’m hoping that we don’t have to go into that.”
“I think the real issue here is not this relationship. I think it’s more about the impropriety of having him on the team and having him present this to the grand jury and the conflict of interest in the appearance of impropriety,” Merchant said.
Allegations of personal vacations
In the days since leveling the allegations of the affair in her motion to dismiss the case, Merchant told CNN that she and her team have uncovered more evidence to buttress the claims, including confirming the trips Willis and Wade took were personal vacations, and not work-related business trips.
“I think what’s relevant is to look at the personal nature of the trips. These are trips that neither Fani nor Nathan got reimbursement for. They didn’t get reimbursement through the county, they didn’t get reimbursement through her campaign,” Merchant said when asked about the nature of the trips.
Wade bought tickets for Willis to accompany him on at least two out-of-state trips, court records released last week show.
The records appeared in a motion filed in Cobb County Superior Court last week by Wade’s current wife, Joycelyn Wade, as part of her divorce case. They include copies of credit card statements that show Wade purchased airline tickets for himself and Willis, including trips to Miami in October 2022 and San Francisco in April 2023.
Joycelyn Wade’s lawyer also sought a deposition from what appears to be a travel agency that Nathan Wade paid, according to his credit card statement.
Those statements also show payments to cruise lines and hotels in Aruba and Napa Valley, California, though more details about those trips don’t appear in court records. Roman’s court filing suggests Wade and Willis traveled together on cruises and vacationed in Napa Valley and the Caribbean, citing “information obtained outside court filings.”
Trump and 18 co-defendants were charged as part of a conspiracy stemming from the former president’s efforts to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat in Georgia, including the use of “fake electors.” Four of the 19 have since pleaded guilty in negotiations spearheaded by Wade, and the remainder have maintained their not-guilty pleas.
Roman, a Trump 2020 campaign official, was indicted for his role in the fake elector plot in Georgia. As CNN has previously reported, Roman was closely involved in the effort to ensure fake elector ballots arrived at the US Capitol in Washington ahead of the January 6 certification of the 2020 election.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.
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