Updated Jan 25, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump lawyers ask judge to disqualify Fulton County DA from election case

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

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

Lawyers for former President Trump asked a judge on Thursday to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from Georgia's 2020 election interference case against Trump.

Why it matters: The claims, which are based on unsubstantiated allegations, were made by one of Trump's former staffers and a co-defendant in the case and have injected uncertainty into its future.

  • The motion from Trump's lawyers was expected, as they previously said they were considering seeking Willis' disqualification.
  • It also seeks to have the 13 counts, including violations of Georgia's racketeering law, against Trump dismissed.

Catch up quickly: Mike Roman, a Republican political operative, claimed in a motion in early January that Willis allegedly had an improper romantic relationship with Georgia lawyer Nathan Wade around the time she hired him to lead the election case.

  • He further alleged that Willis and Wade improperly financially benefitted from Wade's employment in the racketeering case.
  • Roman claimed that in doing so, Willis potentially violated ethics laws and should be disqualified from the case. He also asked a judge to drop the seven felony counts he's charged with in the case.

Of note: Following Roman's claims, Wade's estranged wife, Joycelyn Wade, divulged financial statements in a motion presented in the couple's divorce proceedings.

  • The statements show Wade purchased two airline trips to Miami and San Francisco with Willis during the election probe, the Washington Post reported.
  • Given the accusations, the judge overseeing the divorce proceedings ordered that case records be unsealed.
  • The documents released publicly so far do not appear to provide additional evidence of an alleged relationship between Wade and Willis, or any financial impropriety. However, future filings in the case will be unsealed.

What they're saying: Steve Sadow, Trump's lead defense counsel in the Georgia case, said the disqualification motion was also prompted by Willis' "extrajudicial public statements falsely and intentionally injecting race into this case," referring to comments she made during a speech at an Atlanta church on Jan. 14.

  • In the speech, Willis said the accusations against Wade and the questions raised about his hiring were racist.
  • "Her attempt to foment racial animus and prejudice against the defendants in order to divert and deflect attention away from her alleged improprieties calls out for the sanctions of dismissal and disqualification," Sadow said.

Worth noting: Trump's motion to disqualify specifically seeks to bar not just Willis, but also the special prosecutors she's hired and the entire Fulton County District Attorney's Office.

  • If Willis, the prosecutors and her office are disqualified, the case could be assigned to another district attorney in the state.
  • However, it would significantly delay the case and the pending trial, as the reassigning process can take years, according to the New York Times.

The big picture: Willis hired Wade as an outside special prosecutor in the 2020 election case in November 2021.

  • He had limited experience prosecuting major criminal cases but defended clients in several cases involving serious crimes, though none involved racketeering, the New York Times reported.
  • However, Wade wasn't Willis' first pick for the lead prosecutor role, and he wasn't her only outside hire. She also hired a racketeering law expert and a high-profile state homicide prosecutor.

What's next: Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the election case, has scheduled an evidentiary hearing regarding Roman's misconduct allegations for Feb. 15.

Go deeper: Georgia state senator wants Fani Willis investigation

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