Updated Feb 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Fani Willis defends herself against damaging allegations in Trump case

Fani Willis on stand

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis takes the stand as a witness during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on Feb. 15 in Atlanta. Photo: Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis began testifying at a hearing Thursday that could determine whether she is disqualified from leading Georgia's 2020 election interference case against former President Trump.

The big picture: The hearing centers on allegations of an improper relationship between Willis and a special prosecutor she hired for the sweeping racketeering case against Trump and his co-defendants.

Details: Willis said the defense's interests were "in contrary to democracy."

  • Willis has denied claims that her personal relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade resulted in a financial conflict of interest.
  • "It's highly offensive when someone lies on you and it's highly offensive when they try to implicate that you slept with somebody the first day you met with them," Willis said while testifying. "And I take exception to it."
  • Willis referred to Trump's alleged electoral interference as the focus of the trial. "I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial," she said.

Catch up fast: Mike Roman, a Republican political operative and co-defendant in the case, alleged that Willis financially benefitted from Wade's hiring after he used some of the money he was paid to take Willis on trips.

  • Judge Scott McAfee said at an earlier hearing this week that a conflict, or the appearance of one, could be cause to remove Willis, NBC News reported.
  • With disqualification, the case could be assigned to another district attorney in the state.

State of play: When asked when her romantic relationship with Wade ended, Willis said he would probably consider the end of the relationship to be June or July, but she considers it to be August when they had a serious conversation.

  • Wade started as a mentor and professional colleague to Willis, she said. They later became friends.

Of note: During a conversation about where Willis lived in 2020 and whether Wade ever visited, the judge cautioned Willis: "We have to listen to the questions as asked and if this happens again and again, then I'm going to have no choice but to strike your testimony."

The latest: A former employee of the DA's office and friend of Willis', Robin Bryant Yeartie, testified that Wade and Willis' relationship started "shortly after" October 2019. In the testimony, Willis said she has known Yeartie since 1990 or 1991, but they have not spoken consistently since then.

  • However, Willis' office said in a filing earlier this month that she had been professional associates and friends with Wade since 2019, and that their relationship started after he was appointed special counsel in November 2021.
  • The filing included an affidavit in which Wade stated the relationship began in 2022.

Zoom in: Wade, who also took the stand Thursday, reiterated that date in his testimony. He also testified that no compensation from his role in the case was shared with Willis.

  • Wade said he never purchased a gift for Willis but did travel with her personally.
  • Wade testified that they "roughly shared" expenses when they traveled together. He said that he would use his business credit card to purchase airfare and other amenities and Willis reimbursed him for expenses in cash.
  • "Ma'am, you are mischaracterizing my testimony greatly," Willis said to a defense attorney while being interrogated about trips to the Caribbean with Wade. "I'm not going to allow you to mischaracterize my testimony."

What's next: If Judge McAfee dismisses Willis and Wade but maintains the charges against Trump and others, the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia would have the responsibility to find a substitute attorney to take up the case.

  • Doing so may be a difficult, arduous process, since only a few district attorneys in the state have the resources to take on such a sprawling, high-profile case, according to AP.
  • Once appointed, the substitute district attorney can choose to maintain the case as is, drop certain charges or dismiss the case entirely.

Zoom out: Trump faces 13 counts in the case related to his alleged efforts to subvert the state's 2020 election results.

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

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