Fulton County DA Fani Willis faces indictment

Though Willis has since admitted to having a relationship with one of her special prosecutors, Nathan Wade, her lawyers argue that it does not present any legal conflicts warranting disqualification. // Photo courtesy of Alex Slitz AP Photo

In August 2023, Fulton County’s District Attorney (DA) Fani Willis was in the courthouse, questioning former President Donald Trump and his aides on their involvement in election misconduct. Six months later, the roles have reversed. It is Trump asking questions and Willis on the stand, with her job and her reputation at stake.

Willis, who led the investigation against Trump’s attempt to interfere with the 2020 elections and indicted him under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, has herself been accused of being in a romantic relationship with one of her special prosecutors, Nathan Wade, before and during the indictment case. Michael Roman, a former campaign staffer and one of the co-defendants of Trump, filed a complaint and asked for their removal from the indictment as it poses a conflict of interest. He added that Willis hired her boyfriend so that she could benefit from the money earned by him. Robin Bryant-Yeartie, a former friend of Willis, also testified that she had “no doubt” that their relationship started in 2019 before Willis hired Wade. 

In her defense, Willis acknowledged that she shared a personal relationship with Wade; however, she added that they started seeing each other only after she hired him to work on the Trump case and ended it in the summer of 2023. While on the stand, Willis answered questions ranging from her CashApp usage to where her money was kept at home — all to gauge whether she financially benefited by hiring Wade on her staff. Calling the accusations “salacious,” she argued that she has no financial or personal conflict of interest and should not be removed from her office or the case. She is also up for re-election to the DA office at the end of the year.

“The defendants have failed to raise any issue legally or factually to satisfy the legal standard for disqualification,” said Adam Abbate, Chief Deputy District Attorney, who is defending Willis. He also asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to reject the motion as the defendants could not
prove their accusations.

Abbate says that the burden of proof is “very, very high” in order to disqualify an elected district attorney like Willis, adding that  “that burden, that actual
conflict has not been shown.” 

Wade, in a written affidavit, also swore that his relationship with Willis began in 2022 and that they split all the expenses and never lived together. When asked for proof, Wade claimed that Willis used cash for her regular expenses, hence there is no paper trail. Wade’s credit card statements show that he bought two plane tickets to San Francisco and Miami and vacationed in Belize and the Bahamas with Willis. He asserted that Willis paid him back in cash despite having no cash deposit slips to support his claims. 

Judge McAfee will rule in the next few weeks whether Wills or the entire DA office should be disqualified from their roles. 

“There are several legal issues to sort through, several factual determinations that I have to make, and those aren’t ones I can make at this moment,” McAfee said after three hours of submissions by both sides. “I will be taking the time to make sure that I give this case the full consideration,” he said. 

In an election year, this case emerges at a crucial time for Trump as the spotlight has now shifted to Willis, who is a Democrat. If Willis is disqualified, the case would be handed over to the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia, which would then need to appoint a replacement prosecutor. Thus, the hearing might get delayed beyond November. Even if Willis and Wade are not disqualified, it can buy Trump political ammunition to argue that the case against him is flawed and motivated by his political adversaries. Thus, Trump’s lawyers are leaving no stone unturned to derail his indictment. 

Willis, who matriculated at Emory, joined the Fulton County DA office in 2001. Most famously, she got 11 educators convicted in 2012 of awarding points to incorrect answers to inflate the scores of state-administered standardized tests. In 2018, Willis opened her law firm in Atlanta, specializing in criminal defense and family law. She made history in 2020 when she defeated her former boss, Paul Howard Jr., a six-term incumbent, and became the first Black female DA of Fulton County. 

In 2021, Willis launched an investigation against former President Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 Presidential election. 18 other top officials, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, were also accused. Officials launched the case after uncovering a phone recording of Trump, where he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to forge ballots to secure his victory in the state of Georgia. 

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state,” Trump said, but Raffensperger refused. 

Judge McAfee’s judgment would come at a pivotal time and could majorly influence Trump’s indictment case and the Presidential elections of 2024. Due to the highly political nature of the case, the final verdict later this year is likely to be contentious.