Fani Willis’s Affair ‘Could Result in Disqualification,’ Judge Warns as Case Against Trump Nears a Tipping Point

A hearing Thursday will shine a spotlight on the district attorney’s affair with the special prosecutor she hired to press the charges against the 45th president.

Photo by Dennis Byron-Pool/Getty Images
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears before Judge Scott McAfee for a hearing in the 2020 Georgia election interference case at the Fulton County Courthouse on November 21, 2023 at Atlanta. Photo by Dennis Byron-Pool/Getty Images

Judge Scott McAfee’s insistence on holding a hearing to determine whether the district attorney of Georgia’s Fulton County, Fani Willis, and her boyfriend who is a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, will be disqualified from the case they have brought against President Trump and 18 others underscores the seriousness of the scandal and could mark a tipping point in Ms. Willis’s efforts to secure convictions. 

The session on Thursday is being requested by Mr. Trump and one of his co-defendants, Michael Roman, in the sprawling racketeering case concerning alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. They want a hearing to show why Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade should be disqualified on account of a conflict of interest stemming from their self-confessed “personal relationship.” 

Ms. Willis wanted Judge McAfee to cancel the hearing, arguing that her liaison with Mr. Wade began after she hired him and that any insinuation that their romance tainted the proceedings is “meritless” and “salacious.” The judge, though, declared that “it’s clear that disqualification can occur if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one.”

Judge McAfee appears to be consulting the Fulton County code, which demands that officers be “in fact and in appearance, independent and impartial in the performance of their official duties.” Officers like Ms. Willis are required “to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” The judge  notes that the couple have “admitted a relationship existed. And so what remains to be proven is the existence and extent of any financial benefit.”

Judge McAfee’s declaration that “it’s possible that the facts alleged by the defendant could result in disqualification” is a sign of the seriousness of the issue and the strength of the evidence collected thus far by Mr. Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant. Ms. Willis struck a defiant note when the accusations were first aired, accusing her critics of racial animus. She and Mr. Wade now admit to the relationship, but deny its existence prior to his hiring in 2022.

Ms. Merchant, though, writes to Judge McAfee that the assertion that the “relationship did not start until 2022 is patently false.” She accuses the two prosecutors of having “enriched themselves off this case,” with Mr. Wade earning more than $700,000 since being appointed. Ms. Merchant has introduced into the record receipts suggesting Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade traveled together, visiting a resort at Aruba and a tattoo parlor at Belize.

Receipts show that $74.15 was spent at the tattoo parlor. That raises the question of whether either Ms. Willis or Mr. Wade was tattooed — and, if so, what the tattoo might have said. It is a matter at the moment purely of speculation. But it’s conceivable that they got a romantic tattoo to mark their relationship. Could an image of the tattoo(s) be subpoenaed as evidence?

Judge McAfee’s decision means that Ms. Merchant’s evidence will be heard in court. She touts the testimony of an attorney, Terrence Bradley, who once worked with Mr. Wade and even served as his divorce lawyer for the separation from his wife of 26 years, Joycelyn. The relationship of the two lawyers, though, appears to have soured, with Mr. Bradley now poised to testify under oath that Ms. Willis’s romance with Mr. Wade is less recent than she alleges.


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