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Nathan Wade Faces Awkward Questions About Fani Willis Relationship

Nathan Wade Faces Awkward Questions About Fani Willis Relationship

Nathan Wade Faces Awkward Questions About Fani Willis Relationship

ATLANTA (AP) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis found herself in a tense situation on Thursday as she took the witness stand to address allegations about her romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. The hearing, which could potentially disrupt one of the four criminal cases against Donald Trump, saw Willis vehemently deny what she called “lies” about her relationship with Wade.

Willis, who initially resisted testifying, decided to take the stand after a previous witness claimed that her relationship with Wade began earlier than they had stated. The district attorney’s testimony became heated, especially under questioning from defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who is seeking to have Willis removed from Trump’s 2020 election interference case. At one point, Willis raised papers and shouted, “It’s a lie!”

“Do you think I’m on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis told Merchant. She also accused Merchant of having interests contrary to democracy.

Willis is expected to return to the witness stand on Friday to continue answering questions. The intense scrutiny on Willis and Wade highlights how the prosecutors, who vowed to hold Trump accountable, are now under a public microscope themselves. The revelations about their personal lives have shifted attention away from Trump’s conduct and raised questions about the future of the case as Trump aims to reclaim the White House.

The disclosure of Willis and Wade’s romantic relationship has given Trump and his Republican allies an opportunity to question the legitimacy of Willis’ case, which Trump has labeled as politically motivated. Other Republicans have called for investigations into Willis, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year.

Trump and his co-defendants argue that the relationship presents a conflict of interest that should disqualify Willis from the case. Wade attempted to downplay the matter, describing himself and Willis as “private people.” “There is nothing secret or salacious about having a private life,” Wade said. “Nothing.”

Robin Yeartie, a former friend and co-worker of Willis, testified earlier that she saw Willis and Wade hugging and kissing before he was hired as special prosecutor in November 2021. Both Wade and Willis testified that they didn’t start dating until 2022 and that their relationship ended months ago. Wade also admitted to having sex with Willis during his separation from his estranged wife, despite previously claiming otherwise in a divorce filing.

If Willis were disqualified, a council supporting prosecuting attorneys in Georgia would appoint a new attorney to either proceed with the charges against Trump and 14 others or drop the case. The relationship between Willis and Wade was first revealed by Merchant, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman. Merchant alleged that Willis personally profited from the case, paying Wade over $650,000 for his work and then benefiting when Wade used his earnings to pay for vacations they took together.

Wade testified that he and Willis traveled together to Belize, Aruba, California, and took cruises, but said Willis paid him back in cash for some travel expenses charged to his credit card. “She was very emphatic and adamant about this independent, strong woman thing so she demanded that she paid her own way,” Wade said.

Defense attorneys pressed Wade to answer uncomfortable questions about his relationship with Willis, prompting objections from the district attorney’s office. The hearing began with lengthy sparring between lawyers over who must answer questions. Willis’ removal would be a significant development. Even if a new lawyer continued with the case, it would likely not go to trial before November, when Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee for president.

In a separate hearing in New York on Thursday, a judge ruled that Trump’s hush-money criminal case will proceed as scheduled, with jury selection starting on March 25. In a court filing earlier this month, Willis’ office insisted that she has no financial or personal conflict of interest and that there are no grounds to dismiss the case or remove her from the prosecution. Her filing called the allegations “salacious” and said they were designed to generate headlines.

Judge Scott McAfee said during a hearing Monday that Willis could be disqualified “if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one.” He said the issues he wants to explore at the hearing are “whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic or nonromantic in nature, when it formed and whether it continues.” These questions are relevant, he said, “in combination with the question of the existence and extent of any personal benefit conveyed as a result of the relationship.”

As the hearing continues, the focus remains on whether Willis and Wade’s relationship will impact the prosecution of Trump and his co-defendants. The outcome could have significant implications for the case and the upcoming election.