Trump, allies press misconduct claim against Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 5:05 AM

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) – Lawyers for Donald Trump and several allies charged with trying to overturn his election loss in Georgia will ask a judge on Thursday to disqualify the prosecutor on the case, Fani Willis, over an alleged improper relationship with a lawyer on her team.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has scheduled a two-day hearing focused on claims by the Republican former U.S. president and his co-defendants that the romantic relationship between Willis and Nathan Wade, a Georgia lawyer she hired to help lead the prosecution, created a conflict of interest and tainted the criminal case.

It is one of four criminal prosecutions that Trump is facing as he closes in on securing the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election. Trump himself will be in New York on Thursday to ask a judge to toss charges in one of the other cases, related to hush-money payments to a porn star.

A lawyer for former Trump adviser Michael Roman, one of 15 remaining defendants in the Georgia case, first raised the allegations in a court filing last month that accused Willis, an elected Democrat, of benefiting financially from the relationship, including by accepting trips from Wade.

Willis and Wade have acknowledged in a court filing that they had a “personal relationship,” but said it began after Wade was contracted to lead the case in 2021. Willis’ office has blasted the disqualification effort as a publicity stunt based on “fantastical theories and rank speculation.”

“The defense is not bringing you facts. The defense is not bringing you law. The defense is bringing you gossip,” Anna Cross, a lawyer for Willis’ office, said in court on Monday.

The allegations have roiled Willis’ historic prosecution of Trump and 14 allies who have pleaded not guilty to charges of forming a criminal conspiracy to overturn Trump’s 2020 defeat in Georgia.

Trump has long presented the Georgia prosecution, and others he faces, as politically motivated attempts to prevent him from returning to power. He has highlighted the claims against Willis as evidence of perceived misconduct by those pursing him.

Trump signed onto the disqualification effort, accusing Willis of improperly discussing race during a speech in which she appeared to reference the allegations. Willis, who along with Wade is Black, has said her remarks did not violate any ethical rules.

Willis and Wade could be forced to testify at the hearing after the judge said he would not immediately rule on their effort to quash subpoenas from Roman demanding they take the witness stand.

McAfee said on Monday that if allegations of financial impropriety by Willis are proven, it could be grounds to disqualify her office from the case, an outcome that would likely cause substantial delays and throw the future of the case into doubt.

Trump’s lawyers have been working to delay the various prosecutions he faces. Were he to win the November election, he could order a halt to two federal prosecutions — or possibly pardon himself of any federal convictions — as well as argue that as president he should not face state prosecutions like the Georgia case.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)