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Trump DA Fani Willis' top prosecutor and former romantic interest resigns after judge's ultimatum

donald trump fani willis
George Napolitano/FilmMagic; Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Chelsea Jia Feng/BI
  • A judge issued a disqualification ruling in Trump's Fulton County election-interference case.

  • The county's DA, Fani Willis, dated the man she hired as a special prosecutor to oversee the case.

  • A lawyer for Mike Roman, a Trump codefendant, argued she benefited from his hiring.

A Georgia judge ruled Friday morning that District Attorney Fani Willis of Fulton County can continue to oversee former President Donald Trump's historic state election-interference case — but only if her top prosecutor steps aside.

The prosecutor, Atlanta-based attorney Nathan Wade, announced his resignation hours later.

"Although the court found that 'the defendants failed to meet their burden of proving that the District Attorney acquired an actual conflict of interest,' I am offering my resignation in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public, and move this case forward as quickly as possible," he wrote in his resignation letter.

Willis accepted Wade's resignation, commending him on his professionalism and dignity.

"I will always remember — and will remind everyone — that you were brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation and prosecution of the allegations that the defendants in this case engaged in a conspiracy to overturn Georgia's 2020 Presidential election," Willis wrote in her response.

Willis and Wade were in a romantic relationship they testified ended last summer.

Judge Scott McAfee's bombshell ruling Friday in the Superior Court of Fulton County followed a three-day evidentiary hearing earlier this month that centered on misconduct allegations against Willis and Wade she hired to lead the inquiry into Trump and his allies' efforts to overturn Trump's Georgia loss during the 2020 presidential election.

McAfee ruled that either Wade must step aside, or Willis and her entire office must give up the case.

"The District Attorney may choose to step aside, along with the whole of her office, and refer the prosecution to the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council for reassignment," he wrote. "Alternatively, SADA Wade can withdraw, allowing the District Attorney, the Defendants, and the public to move forward without his presence or remuneration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case."

With Wade gone, Willis' office is expected to continue prosecuting the ex-president and his allies.

Willis' time under the spotlight

Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for Trump's codefendant Mike Roman, had argued in a motion to disqualify Willis that Willis had a conflict of interest in the case because she improperly benefited from the romantic relationship with Wade.

That benefit, Merchant argued, included thousands of dollars that Wade had paid for Willis' travel to exotic vacations.

Over the course of the emotion-filled hearings, McAfee heard from witnesses, including Willis, her former friend, her father, Wade, and Wade's former divorce attorney — attempting to determine when their relationship began and whether she benefited financially.

Willis' ex-friend testified that Wade and Willis began dating shortly after they met in 2019, years before she hired him in November 2021 for the Trump case. Wade's ex-law partner and divorce attorney, Terrence Bradley, acknowledged in testimony he previously said in texts to Merchant he believed Willis "absolutely" started dating Wade before she hired him to lead the high-profile case.

However, under questioning, Bradley said he was only "speculating" about the timing of Willis and Wade's relationship.

McAfee wrote Friday that he was "unable to place any stock in the testimony of Terrance Bradley."

"His inconsistencies, demeanor, and generally non-responsive answers left far too brittle a foundation upon which to build any conclusions," McAfee wrote. "While prior inconsistent statements can be considered as substantive evidence under Georgia law, Bradley's impeachment by text message did not establish the basis for which he claimed such sweeping knowledge of Wade's personal affairs."

Wade and Willis both testified they didn't begin dating until early 2022, when they were already working together and they stopped dating last summer.

They both testified at a February 15 evidentiary hearing that the district attorney had always been fiercely independent and insisted on paying her own way. If Wade laid out the cost of travel on his credit card, Willis paid him back in cash, which she didn't have a record of, or picked up other bills of equal value, they testified.

Legal experts had largely agreed before her testimony that Willis' relationship with Wade was bad optics but didn't appear to rise to the level of a conflict of interest in the election-interference case.

McAfee, in his order Friday, ultimately agreed. He said there was no real personal benefit for Willis in the prosecution, nor did she get kickback payments from Wade, as some defense lawyers alleged.

"In sum, the District Attorney has not in any way acted in conformance with the theory that she arranged a financial scheme to enrich herself (or endear herself to Wade) by extending the duration of this prosecution or engaging in excessive litigation," McAfee wrote.

'An odor of mendacity remains'

During closing arguments in the evidentiary hearing, defense attorneys for Roman, Trump, and other codefendants in the Georgia election-interference case said they demonstrated that Willis' relationship with Wade began before she hired him and that she benefited from his hire.

"If this court allows this kind of behavior to go on, and allows DAs across the state by its order to engage in these kinds of activities, the entire public confidence in the system will be shot, and the integrity of the system will be undermined," Merchant's husband, John Merchant, an attorney who is also representing Roman, said in closing arguments.

In the hearing, Adam Abbate, a prosecutor with Willis' office, argued that the defense attorneys had to show an "actual" conflict of interest and failed to do so.

"It's a desperate attempt to remove a prosecutor from a case for absolutely no reason, your honor, other than harassment and embarrassment," Abbate said.

"This motion should be denied because the legal requirements that are required in order for the district attorney to be disqualified have not been satisfied," the prosecutor said.

"The defendants have failed to raise any issue legally or factually to satisfy the legal standard for disqualification," he said.

McAfee said Willis had a "tremendous lapse in judgment" and behaved in an "unprofessional manner" on the witness stand during his hearings.

He said that while he didn't find a real conflict of interest, "an odor of mendacity remains."

The mere appearance of a conflict was strong enough to require removing either Wade or Willis from the case, he wrote.

"An outsider could reasonably think that the District Attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences," he wrote. "As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist."

This story was updated with news of Wade's resignation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the judge's ruling. The judge gave District Attorney Fani Willis an option to recuse herself and her office, or for her top prosecutor to withdraw from the case.

Read the original article on Business Insider