The prosecutor in the Trump Georgia case admitted to a relationship with a colleague

Fannie T. Willis, the district attorney prosecuting the Georgia election meddling case against former President Donald J. Trump, acknowledged Friday a “personal relationship” with the prosecutor she hired to handle the case, but insisted that was not a reason to disqualify her or her office from it.

The admission came nearly a month after allegations of an “inappropriate, secret personal relationship” between the two emerged in a motion filed by one of Trump’s co-defendants. The motion seeks to disqualify both prosecutors and Ms. Willis’ entire office from handling the case — an effort that, if successful, would likely sow chaos for an unprecedented racketeering prosecution of the former president.

“Although the allegations made in the various motions are defamatory and have generated the media attention they are designed to garner, none provide this Court with any basis upon which to order the relief sought,” Ms. Willis’s filing states, adding that her relationship with the plaintiff is , Nathan J. Wade, “never involved a direct or indirect financial benefit” to Ms. Willis.

The request included a statement from Mr. Wade, in which it is claimed that the relationship began only after Mr. Wade accepted.

The original filing containing the allegations, filed by Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign official, said Ms. Willis hired her “boyfriend” as a special prosecutor, giving him lucrative contracts even though he was underqualified, and then benefiting from that she continued the vacations that Mr. Wade paid.

But Ms Willis said in her submission that “the financial responsibility for personal travel is shared roughly equally”. Mr. Wade repeated that statement in his affidavit, adding that Ms. Willis “received no funds or personal financial benefit from my position as special prosecutor.”

In the request of Mr. Romana is also said to have started a relationship before Mr. Wade began working for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in November 2021. But Mr. Wade stated in his affidavit that although he had been friends with Ms Willis since 2019, it was not until 2022 that he “developed a personal relationship” with her.

The allegations, and Ms. Willis’s silence so far about them, have thrown the high-stakes prosecution off balance, giving Mr. Trump a new line of attack and raising the prospect of a delay or more serious consequences for the case. Ms Willis has asked for the trial to start in August, but no date has been set.

The charges do not change the underlying facts of the case, which accuses Mr. Trump and his allies of engaging in a conspiracy to undermine the results of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. Four of the 19 original defendants have pleaded guilty, including some of Mr. Trump’s most ardent defenders. One of them, Jenna Ellis, said in tears during a hearing late last year that she looked back on what she had done with “deep remorse”.

Mr. Romano’s request last month did not provide evidence of a romantic relationship. But a few weeks after it was filed, the estranged wife of Mr. Wadea provided credit card statements showing that he had purchased plane tickets for himself and Ms. Willis after he began working for her office. Records show flights to San Francisco from Atlanta purchased on April 25, 2023 and to Miami from Atlanta purchased on October 4, 2022.

But Ms. Willis also bought plane tickets for herself and Mr. Wade, according to Friday’s filing, which included copies of her email traffic with Delta showing travel arrangements to and from Miami. Melissa D. Redmon, a law professor at the University of Georgia and a former Fulton County prosecutor, said some of the allegations in the filings could make Mr. Romano’s claim more difficult to succeed.

“If they are cost-sharing,” Professor Redmon said, referring to personal travel expenses for Ms Willis and Mr Wade, “it would be hard to say she personally benefited.”

She added: “That is the essence of the defendants’ strongest argument – that she should be disqualified for personally benefiting from the relationship.”

In an interview with The New York Times in 2022, Ms. Willis said that Mr. Wade was not her first choice for the job. But she described him as a longtime mentor and friend who she hired because she could trust him.

In the submission of Mr. Romana is stated that the relationship represents a conflict of interest that should be the basis for disqualification, and requests that the case against Mr. He threw Roman away. Mr. Trump joined the proposal last week; he also argued in a separate filing that Ms. Willis violated state bar rules when she claimed in a speech last month that racism was behind the attempt to impeach her and Mr. Wade gets disqualified. Both prosecutors are black, while most of the defendants are white.

Ms Willis ridiculed the claim of a conflict of interest, writing that the idea that she had a financial stake in the case was based on “fanciful theories and rank speculation. Georgia law requires much more.”

“The existence of a relationship between members of the prosecution team, in itself, is simply not a status that entitles the defendant to any legal remedy,” she added.

These issues will be heard by the presiding judge in the case, Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court. He scheduled a hearing for February 15. Mr. Romano’s lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, sent subpoenas demanding that Mr. Wade, Ms. Willis and a number of other witnesses are testifying at the hearing, although it is unclear whether the judge will allow them to be put on the stand.

In response to Ms Willis’s submission on Friday, Ms Merchant argued that a hearing was still necessary. She said in her filing that witnesses had “personal knowledge that the personal relationship between Wade and Willis began prior to his appointment as special prosecutor” and said she wanted to question him in court about the matter.

There is already precedent for disqualifying a district attorney’s office in an election meddling investigation. In July 2022, a judge disqualified Ms. Willis and her office from pursuing criminal charges against Burt Jones, now the lieutenant governor of Georgia, because Ms. Willis ran a fundraiser for one of his political opponents.

But in her filing Friday, Ms. Willis wrote that the scheduled hearing was unnecessary and would be the equivalent of “tickets to the circus.” The “assumptions and insinuations” about her private life, she wrote, were “in bad taste”.

Mr. Wade earned more than $650,000 for his work in the attorney general’s office, prompting Mr. Romano to refer repeatedly to the “lucrative” contracts in his filing. But Ms. Willis defended the salary of Mr. Wade. His rate of $250 an hour, she said, is not “out of the norm for prosecutorial agencies in Georgia.”

And although Mr. Wade earned more than the other special prosecutors on the case, she noted, the others had “much more limited roles.”

“Special Prosecutor Wade made a lot more money than other special prosecutors simply because Wade did a lot more work,” Ms. Willis wrote.

But if anything, the optics weren’t good for Ms. Willis’ team. During her 2020 campaign for district attorney, Ms. Willis fought against an incumbent who faces sexual harassment allegations. During a campaign appearance, Ms. Willis said: “I’m certainly not going to pick people to work under my name, just saying.” (Her opponent, Paul Howard, has been found that he is not guilty since harassment allegations in December.)

In a new attack on Ms. Willis, the House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a staunch Trump ally, on Friday subpoenaed her office over its use of federal funds.

Mr. Trump himself seized on these allegations. In a social media post on Friday, he he said that Ms. Willis “was able to get her ‘lover’” a significant sum of money by hiring him for the case, based on the fact that Mr. Trump was the target. “That means this scam is completely discredited and over!” he added.

In Georgia, where Republicans have a firm grip on state government, several investigations are on deck and are likely to look into whether ethical and criminal violations have been committed. The biggest risk to Ms. Willis, as well as to the case itself, may come from a new commission created by Republican state lawmakers to oversee district attorneys. The commission is expected to review her conduct when it is launched later this year.

But the disappointment was also palpable among some of Mr Trump’s critics, who hope he will face consequences for his attempts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. At the end of last year, a digital publication The Root named Ms. Willis No. 1 on its list of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans and celebrated her at a ceremony at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Then, after the allegations surfaced last month, The Root published an article criticizing Ms. Willis for poor judgment, even as it said black people in high-ranking positions were held to a tougher standard than their white counterparts. “We all love Willis here at The Root, which is why she won first place at last month’s The Root 100 ceremony,” article stated. “But she absolutely should have known better than to put herself in this position.”

In a statement on Friday, Steven H. Sadow, Mr. Trump’s top lawyer in Georgia, said Ms. Willis’ response did not provide “full transparency and the necessary financial details” about the relationship. Mr. Sadow also argued that Ms. Willis’ speech in Atlanta on Jan. 14, in which she suggested her critics were “playing the race card,” “violated her ethical responsibilities as a prosecutor.”

Ms Willis’s filing included examples of some of the racist criticism directed at her since the investigation into Mr Trump began, including unprintable insults and epithets, sentiments such as “slavery forever” and a depiction of Ms Willis’s face next to a noose.

“One may question whether the intent is to disqualify the prosecutor who took all the abuse to get justice in this case at great personal cost,” she wrote, “only to be replaced by someone less committed.”

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