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Fulton County Court Holds Hearings Ahead Of Trump Georgia Election Case

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia. | Source: Pool / Getty

UPDATED: 9:30 a.m. ET, March 15

A judge ruled on Friday morning that either the Georgia district attorney or the special counsel assigned to prosecute sweeping conspiracy charges against former President Donald Trump and other defendants must remove themselves from the case even though there is “insufficient evidence” their romantic relationship posed a conflict of interest in the legal proceedings.

The ruling was largely seen as a partial victory for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who faced being disqualified from prosecuting the case altogether over disproven allegations that she had both political and financial motivations for bringing the charges. That penalty would have further delayed the case that’s already been on hiatus for months while the judge deliberated a motion to remove Willis.

NBC News reported:

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee found the “appearance of impropriety” brought about by Willis’ romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade should result in either Willis and her office leaving the case — or just Wade, who she’d appointed to head the case.

The choice is likely to be an easy one: If Willis were to remove herself, the case would come to a halt, but having Wade leave will ensure the case continues without further delay.

The judge also found there was no “actual conflict” brought about by the relationship, a finding that would have required Willis to be disqualified. “Without sufficient evidence that the District Attorney acquired a personal stake in the prosecution, or that her financial arrangements had any impact on the case, the Defendants’ claims of an actual conflict must be denied,” the judge wrote.

“This finding is by no means an indication that the Court condones this tremendous lapse in judgment or the unprofessional manner of the District Attorney’s testimony during the evidentiary hearing. Rather, it is the undersigned’s opinion that Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices — even repeatedly — and it is the trial court’s duty to confine itself to the relevant issues and applicable law properly brought before it,” he added.

The judge did, however, also find “the prosecution is encumbered by an appearance of impropriety.” “As the case moves forward, reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit to the District Attorney, or even whether the romantic relationship has resumed,” he wrote. “As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist.”

This article will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.


Original story published on Feb. 23:


Last week’s bombshell hearing to determine whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from prosecuting the sweeping RICO case against Donald Trump for allegedly plotting to illegally overturn the 2020 election in Georgia concluded with one main question: When will the judge render his decision?

Here’s what we know

While it appears that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee’s looming decision could come any day, it likely won’t be handed down before both sides – prosecutors from Willis’ office and defense attorneys representing Trump’s interests – present their closing arguments and statements stemming from a complaint from one of Trump’s co-defendants about an alleged conflict of interest that Willis benefited financially from a former romantic relationship with a special prosecutor in the RICO case.

And with a full week having elapsed between when McAfee adjourned the case on Feb. 16, it’s unclear when the case will resume.

The complaint, which was filed in court last month by former Trump campaign official Michael Roman — who is accused of using fake electors to prevent Joe Biden’s presidential election from being certified — includes an accusation that Willis paid Nathan Wade more than $650,000 in taxpayer money to be a special prosecutor in the case despite him lacking the “relevant experience” needed to prosecute a high-profile RICO case like this one.

Wade and Willis previously confirmed their past romantic relationship before going into detail last week during the hearing.

Roman’s complaint alleges that all of the above gives Willis a conflict of interest in the case and seeks not only her removal but also Wade’s. If that were to happen, it could threaten the overall RICO case from moving forward and hand a significant legal victory to Trump as he mounts a presidential campaign while navigating between multiple other court cases related to allegations he tried to overturn the 2020 election.

Defense attorneys at the hearing tried to establish that Wade used the money he earned from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office to take Willis on vacations like a tropical cruise and flights to places like Miami and California.

But Willis shattered that notion by claiming she always paid back Wade. Those payments, she said, were always in cash, claims that defense attorneys in search of receipts scrutinized. A host at a winery in Napa Valley where Willis and Wade traveled together said this week that he remembered Willis paying in cash, effectively further corroborating her claims.

“I don’t need anything from a man — a man is not a plan. A man is a companion,” Willis testified last week. “And so there was tension always in our relationship, which is why I would give him his money back.”

Recounting racist treatment when he said an establishment refused his credit cards as payment, Willis’ father also testified in the hearing last week that he has always counseled his daughter to keep large amounts of cash wherever she is.

What the experts are saying

The hearing last week was effectively a game of smoke and mirrors as Trump World looks to deflect responsibility for what became a full-blown insurrection by showcasing salacious details of a personal relationship that has no bearing on the actual charges facing the former president and his co-defendants.

In that respect, the two-day hearing last week was simply a side show, according to MSNBC columnist Katie S. Phang.

“It’s worth repeating that the law in Georgia requires that an actual conflict of interest exist for disqualification of a prosecuting attorney. The conflict cannot be theoretical or speculative,” Phang wrote this week. “Appellate courts in Georgia recognize specific reasons to disqualify a prosecutor, none of which is applicable to Willis.”

However, citing federal court guidelines, Fulton County criminal defense lawyer Andrew Fleischman said in an op-ed for the Hill that “there is an obvious appearance of impropriety” because “federal prosecutors are not allowed to participate in cases where someone with whom they have a close personal relationship has a substantial financial interest. In other words, they can’t hire a spouse or boyfriend to be a special prosecutor.”

Of course, Willis is not a federal prosecutor and Fulton County Superior Court is not a federal court.

Attacks on Fani Willis must be taking a toll

Jennifer R. Farmer, an author and the founder of Spotlight PR LLC, has expressed concern for Willis’ well-being considering the barrage of attacks she’s endured since announcing her office’s prosecution of Trump.

“There will be people who review DA Willis’ testimony and praise her, but I am clear that this experience (of investigating former President Trump and then being publicly questioned about her personal and romantic relationship with Mr. Wade) must have an adverse impact on her,” Farmer wrote this week in an op-ed for NewsOne.


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