Fani Willis Mounts ‘Last Ditch Effort’ To Defend Relationship With Ex-Boyfriend and Defeat Trump’s Disqualification Effort 

The Fulton County district attorney files a motion likening the 45th president’s case against her to a ‘room without walls.’

Alyssa Pointer/pool via AP
Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testifies about her romance with Mr. Wade on February 15, 2024, at Atlanta. Alyssa Pointer/pool via AP

District Attorney Fani Willis’s motion, docketed on Wednesday, to dismiss President Trump’s appeal regarding her disqualification underscores the possibility that she soon could be barred from the case she brought.

Trump’s petition is before the Georgia Court of Appeals. Judge Scott McAfee ruled that Ms. Willis could stay on the racketeering prosecution if her special prosecutor and former boyfriend, Nathan Wade, departed.

The 45th president maintains that was an insufficient remedy for the conflict of interest generated by the romantic relationship — and the more than $650,000 that Ms. Willis’s office paid Mr. Wade for his work on the case.

Now comes Ms. Willis to argue that the appeal was “ improvidently granted due to the lack of sufficient evidence, based upon the explicit factual findings of the trial court, to support reversal of the order at issue.”

The district attorney contends that the case for a conflict of interest  — and a violation of Trump’s due process rights — “is not supported by the actual evidence.”

While appellate courts frequently correct legal errors that crop up in lower courts, Ms. Willis maintains that they should “not disturb a trial court’s factual findings on disputed issues outside of certain, very rare, circumstances.”

Only, she writes, determinations that “are flatly incorrect” should be overturned on appeal. Her position is that the evidence Trump and his co-defendants marshaled “forecloses any possibility of reversal.”

Ms. Willis appears to stand on strongest ground when she highlights deficiencies in the testimony of one of Mr. Wade’s former law partners, Terrence Bradley.

Mr. Bradley sent text messages to a defense lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, alleging that the affair between Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis predated the special prosecutor’s hiring. The two deny this. Mr. Wade told ABC News that workplace romances are “as American as apple pie.”

Under oath, through, Mr. Bradley characterized his assessment of the affair as speculation. Ms. Willis writes that he “was such an utter cypher of either credibility or useful information that the trial court felt compelled to discard his testimony in its entirety.”

She calls him the “linchpin” of the entire effort to disqualify her. Without Mr. Bradley, Ms. Willis writes, the case against her amounts to “a room without walls.”

Ms. Willis reminds the appeals court that Judge McAfee did not find that she reaped a “material financial benefit as a result of her decision to hire and engage in a romantic relationship” with Mr. Wade.

She told Judge McAfee that she reimbursed Mr. Wade, in cash, for trips the two took to places like Aruba, Belize, and Napa Valley. Ms. Willis’s father told the court that storing cash at home as her daughter claims to have done is a “Black thing.”

Trump also argues that Ms. Willis has earned disqualification for comments about the case that she has made outside of the courtroom. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, she accused her defendants and critics of “playing the race card.”

Fulton County is a majority-minority jurisdiction, and Trump and his fellow defendants have accused her of working to poison the jury pool in advance of trial. 

Judge McAfee called Ms. Willis’s remarks “legally improper,” but declined to find them sufficient for disqualification. The district attorney writes that “with trial neither imminent nor even scheduled, the speech’s possible effects upon a hypothetical jury pool remain entirely speculative.” She posits that there is “no basis” for coming to another conclusion. 

The Georgia Court of Appeals, though, could wonder over what Ms. Willis omits from her account of Judge McAfee’s decision. She does not report that he found that an “odor of mendacity” characterized her relationship with Mr. Wade.

Also unmentioned is his determination that the affair gave rise to a “significant appearance of impropriety,” which under the Fulton County Code of Ethics for lawyers can be sufficient for disqualification. 

Ms. Willis does not relate Judge McAfee’s finding that her rhetoric was “legally improper,” nor does she report his determination that her reimbursement scheme was “unusual and the lack of any documentary corroboration understandably concerning.” He found her explanations to be “not so incredible as to be inherently unbelievable” given that “no ledger exists.”

Judge McAfee also appeared so alarmed by Ms. Willis’s rhetoric that he wrote that she was testing “dangerous waters for the District Attorney to wade further into.” He also reckoned that “the time may well have arrived for an order preventing the State from mentioning the case in any public forum” — meaning a gag order muting Ms. Willis’s communication.   

The Georgia Court of Appeals, in granting Trump’s appeal, likely read such comments from Judge McAfee as expressions of concern that warrant a second look. The review tribunal has tentatively set a date of October 4 for oral arguments.

In a statement emailed to the Sun, Trump’s attorney, Steven Sadow, called ​​the motion a “last ditch effort to stop any appellate review of DA Willis’ misconduct.” 


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