Legal experts skeptical of conflict of interest claim in Trump Georgia case

Several legal experts watching Thursday’s hearing in the case of Georgia v. Donald J. Trump and his allies doubted that defense questioning and witness testimony showed a clear conflict of interest over whether Fulton County District Attorney Fannie T. Willis and the special prosecutor, Nathan J. Wade, benefited financially from their relationship and the prosecution.

However, experts added that today’s proceedings did not help the prosecutors as a whole.

“This has not been a good day for the DA’s office,” said Caren Morrison, a former federal prosecutor and associate professor at Georgia State University School of Law.

The defense spent hours before Judge Scott McAfee questioning the relationship and financial transactions between Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade, and a former friend of Ms. Willis testified that the romantic relationship began before Mr. Wade charged in Georgia election meddling case in November 2021. That contradicts the timeline presented by prosecutors and testimony from Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis, who said it began in early 2022.

“Even if the judge finds that there was no conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict, in public perception, this hearing was prejudicial,” Ms Morrison said. “The frantic accumulation of travel, bills and expenses does not detract from their reputation, but only provides plenty of fodder for critics of the case.”

Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University, said testimony and evidence presented Thursday did not show a conflict of interest related to the financial benefits, which he said is a “key issue” that, if proven, would require The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is disqualified from the case against Mr. Trump and his allies.

But he said Robin Bryant-Yeartie’s testimony contradicting the prosecutor’s timeline could be a “major problem” for Ms Willis if further evidence showed she and Mr Wade “were less than ready to stand trial”.

All in all, said Mr. Kreis, the hearing was “more drama than it made clear,” adding that “this is really going to come down to credibility and who Judge McAfee is inclined to believe.” He also said Ms Willis, who vigorously denied any of the defendants’ claims of a relationship, was “the strongest witness yet”.

But Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University’s Loyola School of Law, said just being on the witness stand put Ms. Willis in an awkward position.

She is “in a place that no person, let alone any prosecutor, wants to be in. Her judgment and integrity are being challenged in the most public way possible,” Ms. Levinson said.

Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and former White House ethics lawyer, told The Times in an email that if there was credible evidence that Ms. Willis was not telling the truth to the judge, “it could be devastating to the case even if the matter is not connected.”

“I am not impressed with Willis and Wade’s poor judgment, which allowed the defense to derail this case,” Mr. Painter said. “I think they should spare us more and just take cover.”

The fact that the hearing happened at all was “a huge boon for Trump,” Ms. Levinson said.

“Fair or not, the more we hear about Willis’ personal relationship with Wade,” she said, adding, “the public’s faith in the fairness of this prosecution is shaken.”

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