Updated Feb 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

How the Fani Willis allegations could affect Trump's Georgia election case

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in an Atlanta courthouse in November 2023.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in an Atlanta courthouse in November 2023. Photo: Dennis Byron-Pool/Getty Images

Fulton County DA Fani Willis, who is leading Georgia's 2020 election interference case against former President Trump, is embroiled in allegations of impropriety from his allies ranging from the House to his co-defendants.

Why it matters: The allegations against Willis, while not yet substantiated, could jeopardize the high-profile case against the GOP presidential frontrunner, who faces four indictments in four jurisdictions during an election year.

Catch up fast: Mike Roman, a Republican political operative and Trump co-defendant charged with seven counts in Fulton County, first made the allegation of an improper relationship between Willis and the cases's lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade, in a legal filing in early January.

  • Lawyers for Roman, a former Trump aide, alleged Willis had hired Wade as lead prosecutor in the case only because of their alleged personal relationship.
  • Willis admitted in a court filing on Feb. 2 that she had a personal relationship with Wade but denied claims that it tainted proceedings or resulted in a financial conflict of interest.
  • Five defendants, including Trump, have sought to disqualify Willis from the case as of Feb. 6.

Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the proceeding, has scheduled an evidentiary hearing regarding Roman's misconduct allegations for Feb. 15.

Between the lines: Roman's lawyers claimed that Wade improperly financially benefitted from the case through legal services contracts he received through the appointment.

  • They leveled the same accusation against Willis, claiming she received "vacations across the world" purchased by Wade that were unrelated to their work.

The latest: In a 176-page filing on Feb. 2, Willis said she and Wade have been professional associates and friends since 2019 and that their relationship started after he had already been appointed as special counsel.

  • She claimed that there were at least two personal relationships among lawyers for the defendants that would require disqualification under the standard set by Roman's motion.
  • Willis asked a judge to dismiss Roman's motion, calling his claims "meritless" and "salacious."

Separately, Willis also received a subpoena in January to sit for a deposition in the divorce case between Wade and his estranged wife, Joycelyn Wade.

  • In a filing in their divorce case, Jocelyn Wade divulged credit card statements showing Wade had purchased two airline trips to Miami and San Francisco with Willis during the election probe, the Washington Post reported.
  • The Wades reached a temporary agreement in the divorce case on Jan. 31. A judge then canceled a hearing where Nathan Wade was scheduled to give testimony that likely would have touched on the accusations.
  • Joycelyn Wade also sought Willis' testimony in the case, though that effort was stayed by the presiding judge until after Nathan Wade first testified.

Background: Willis hired Nathan Wade as an outside special prosecutor in the 2020 election case in November 2021 despite Wade having little experience prosecuting major criminal cases, the New York Times reported.

  • He had defended multiple clients in criminal cases involving aggravated assault and battery, armed robbery, rape, cocaine trafficking and financial fraud, but had no experience with racketeering cases.
  • He has since earned roughly $650,000 in legal charges to Willis' office, receiving a rate of roughly $250 an hour, per the Times. Several former Georgia prosecutors told the Times that Wade's hourly rate did not seem excessive.

Wade was not Willis' only outside hire. She also brought on an expert on racketeering law and a high-profile state homicide prosecutor.

  • According to an upcoming book by journalists Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman, Willis hired Wade only after two other prominent Atlanta lawyers declined the special prosecutor position, CBS News reports.

What they're saying: Willis in January suggested racism was at the heart of the allegations she is facing in a speech at Big Bethel AME Church.

  • "I appointed three special counsels, which is my right to do," she said. "Paid them all the same hourly rate. They only attack one."
  • Without naming Wade in the speech, Willis said he had "impeccable credentials," noting his time as a municipal judge, and praised his work in helping assemble the prosecutorial team for the 2020 election case.

The Fulton County District Attorney's Office did not respond to Axios' initial request for comment.

  • Wade's law firm, Wade & Campbell, also did not respond to a request for comment.

The bottom line: It has yet to be proven whether the allegations are true.

  • If they are, it's possible Willis and Wade may be dismissed or recuse themselves, which would significantly damage the case. Willis has said she wouldn't recuse herself.
  • The potential impact on charges against Roman, Trump or other defendants is not yet known.
  • So far, at least three of the 19 people charged in the election case have accepted plea deals, including former Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro.

Go deeper: Georgia state senator wants Fani Willis investigation

Editor's note: This story was updated with new developments.

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