Fani Willis hearing: Judge hears arguments over removing DA from Trump Georgia case

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The judge overseeing the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump heard legal arguments Friday over whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade from the case.

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Attorneys representing Trump and others accused of scheming to keep him in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election have accused Willis of beginning a romantic relationship with Wade before hiring him as special prosecutor, creating a conflict of interest. Both have acknowledged the relationship but denied any wrongdoing, saying their relationship began after Wade was hired.

Court adjourns; judge hopes to issue decision within two weeks

Update 4:20 p.m. EST March 1: Court has adjourned for the afternoon after Trump’s attorney, Steve Sadow, offered a brief rebuttal to prosecution arguments.

Judge Scott McAfee said he will not issue a decision on Friday as he considers the points made.

“I think it has been very much made clear by the argument ... made today ... that there are several legal issues to sort through, several factual determinations that I have to make, and those aren’t ones that I can make at this moment,” he said. “And so I will be taking the time to make sure that I give this case the full consideration it’s due. I hope to have an answer for everyone within the next two weeks.”

Prosecutor: Defendants failed to meet the legal requirements for disqualification

Update 4:15 p.m. EST March 1: An attorney for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office argued Friday that Judge Scott McAfee should not disqualify Wade or Willis from the Trump case because they failed to satisfy the legal requirements for such a move.

Adam Abbate said that if defense attorneys were correct and Willis wanted to benefit financially from the case, she would have indicted all 39 people who the grand jury recommended charges against and sought to draw out the process. He characterized the defense’s arguments as absurd.

Prosecutor argues ‘actual conflict’ must be found to disqualify district attorney

Update 3:30 p.m. EST March 1: Adam Abbate, an attorney for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, argued Friday that previous cases in which district attorneys have been removed from cases have involved actual conflicts of interest and not just the appearance of impropriety.

He emphasized that no evidence surfaced during testimony to show that Willis got financial benefit from her relationship with Wade.

“The state would contend and submit to the court that the defense must show an actual conflict in order to have the district attorney disqualified, and that actual conflict has to be in the form of showing Ms. Willis, in this instance, received a financial benefit or gain in relation to the outcome of the case,” he said.

He noted that Terrence Bradley, Wade’s former law partner and divorce attorney who was billed as a star witness for the defense, did not impeach anyone with his testimony.

“The motions to disqualify should be denied,” he said. “And Ms. Willis, as the district attorney of Fulton County, and Mr. Wade, as the special prosecutor assigned to this case, should be allowed to remain on this case and continue to prosecute the case to the end.”

Willis, Wade both in courtroom for hearing

Update 3 p.m. EST March 1: Both Wade and Willis are in court and listening to arguments in Friday’s hearing.

Hearing resumes in Georgia

Update 2:45 p.m. EST March 1: Court has reconvened in Fulton County as Judge Scott McAfee hears arguments over removing Willis and Wade from the Trump case.

Prosecutors are now laying out their arguments against disqualifying the pair.

Court take brief break before state presents its argument

Update 2:40 p.m. EST March 1: The court broke for a brief break on Friday afternoon after Judge Scott McAfee heard arguments from attorneys representing Trump and his co-defendants, who are seeking Wade and Willis’ removal from the case.

Attorneys accused the district attorney and special prosecutor of lying to the court about their relationship, contending that it began far earlier than either admitted to on the stand. They argued that Wade and Willis’ relationship presented a clear conflict of interest and said Willis got clear financial benefits from Wade after she hired him.

The state is scheduled to present its argument after court reconvenes.

Judge hears arguments over removing Willis, Wade

Update 2:20 p.m. EST March 1: Attorneys began to lay out their case for disqualifying Willis and Wade before Judge Scott McAfee on Friday afternoon.

McAfee said that he could make a decision on whether to remove Willis after hearing Friday’s arguments. Earlier, reports indicated that he would not issue a ruling until next week, at the earliest.

John Merchant, an attorney for former Trump campaign staff member Michael Roman, said that Willis got $9,200 in personal financial benefit from her relationship with Wade. He added that the amount is not necessarily the issue.

“It’s the fact that she received it, and it’s not insignificant,” he said.

Steve Sadow, an attorney representing Trump, noted that McAfee is not required to find that either the district attorney or special prosecutor lied about their relationship in order to disqualify them from the case. Instead, he said the judge would have to “make a finding of fact that you have genuine legitimate concerns about their credibility and their truthfulness.”

McAfee suggested that, if Willis and Wade lied on the stand, they could face disciplinary action from the state bar.

Original report: Judge Scott McAfee heard testimony Wednesday from Terrence Bradley, Wade’s former law partner and divorce attorney who was billed as a “star witness” to the allegations. In text messages read in court, Bradley told one of the attorneys involved in the case that Willis and Wade began their romantic relationship while serving as local judges before Willis became district attorney. However, he said on the stand that his texts were “speculation” and that he did not know when their relationship began.

In fiery testimony last month, Willis denied any wrongdoing, saying that her romantic involvement with Wade began in early 2022 and ended in the summer of 2023. She accused attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who led the effort to have her removed from the case, of being “intrusive into people’s personal lives.”

“You’re confused,” she said. “You think I’m on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.”

Robin Yeartie, a former friend of Willis’ who earlier worked in the district attorney’s office, testified that Wade and Willis began dating in 2019, an allegation that Wade denied. He said that he was dealing with a cancer diagnosis in 2020 that kept him from dating anyone due to health precautions that he needed to take during the coronavirus pandemic.

McAfee is not expected to issue a decision in the case until next week, at the earliest, The New York Times reported.

The allegations against Willis and Wade do not change the nature of the charges against Trump or his co-defendants, although they have created a messy diversion in the case.

Last year, a grand jury indicted Trump and 18 others on charges that they conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Four people — bail bondsman Scott Hall and attorneys Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis — have pleaded guilty to charges. The remaining defendants, including Trump, have denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

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