Fulton County DA acknowledges personal relationship with lead prosecutor on Trump case

Holmes Lybrand, CNN | 2/2/2024, 1:07 p.m.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Nathan Wade, her lead prosecutor on the 2020 election case, both acknowledge in …
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during an Associated Press interview on Tuesday, December 12, 2023. Mandatory Credit: Brynn Anderson/AP/File

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Nathan Wade, her lead prosecutor on the 2020 election case, both acknowledge in court papers that they have a “personal” relationship but strongly pushed back on claims that she financially benefitted from hiring him.

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'Salacious': Fani Willis responds to allegations

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is spearheading the Georgia criminal case against former President Donald Trump and his allies over efforts to overturn the 2020 election, has filed a written response to an attempt to have her disqualified based on an alleged inappropriate relationship with her top deputy on the case, Nathan Wade. Source: CNN

The filing from Willis, who is spearheading the Georgia criminal case against former President Donald Trump and his allies over efforts to overturn the 2020 election, includes an affidavit from Wade, who says that in 2022 he and Willis “developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship.”

Wade denied that his earnings on the case have been “shared with or provided to” Willis.

“The District Attorney received no funds or personal financial gain from my position as Special Prosecutor,” he said.

Willis also said their “personal relationship … has never involved direct or indirect financial benefit to District Attorney Willis.”

Willis filed the response to allegations by one of Trump’s co-defendants of a conflict of interest and improper romantic relationship with Wade.

Willis said in the court filing that the “salacious” allegations do not reach the legal grounds required for her to be disqualified from the Georgia election interference case.

“While the allegations raised in the various motions are salacious and garnered the media attention they were designed to obtain, none provide this Court with any basis upon which to order the relief they seek,” the filing stated.

Willis said that defense attorneys did not reach the legal basis for disqualification, writing that she has no financial or person conflict of interest that “constitutes a legal basis for disqualification,” and that she “has made no public statements that warrant disqualification or judicial inquiry.”

The motion also defended Wade, saying that the attacks on his qualifications are “factually inaccurate, unsupported, and malicious, in addition to providing no basis whatsoever to dismiss the indictment or disqualify Special Prosecutor Wade.”

“Defendants do not point to any action taken by the District Attorney or any of her staff that has been outside the character of an officer of the law specially charged to oversee either the special purpose grand jury’s investigation or the prosecution of these Defendants,” the motion reads.

“Instead, the motions attempt to cobble together entirely unremarkable circumstances of Special Prosecutor Wade’s appointment with completely irrelevant allegations about his personal family life into a manufactured conflict of interest on the part of the District Attorney. The effort must fail.”

Wade and Willis respond to allegations of improper conduct

The judge overseeing the criminal case had ordered Willis to respond – setting the stage for a February 15 hearing on the matter. Willis, Wade and some of their colleagues could be forced to testify at the hearing after receiving subpoenas this week.

Addressing allegations that the two took vacations together, Willis wrote that the “financial responsibility for personal travel taken is divided roughly evenly between the two, with neither being primarily responsible for expenses of the other, and all expenses paid for with individual personal funds.”

In his affidavit, Wade said: “At times I have made and purchased travel for District Attorney Willis and myself from my personal funds. At other times District Attorney Willis has made and purchased travel for she and I from her personal funds.”

Willis added that “there are no joint or shared finances or financial accounts,” that “there is not now and has never been any shared household,” and that neither Willis nor Wade are financially reliant on the other.

Citing Wade’s affidavit, Willis wrote that “Defendants offer no support for their insistence that the exercise of any prosecutorial discretion (i.e., any charging decision or plea recommendation) in this case was impacted by any personal relationship.”

“Without those additional factors, the existence of a relationship between members of a prosecution team, in and of itself, is simply not a status that entitles a criminal defendant any remedy,” she continued.

In the spring of 2021, Wade was asked by Willis, along with two other attorneys, to assist in the investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“Lawyers we spoke with about taking on the work expressed hesitation due to concerns related to violent rhetoric and potential safety issues for their families,” Wade said, adding that he initially pushed back when Willis asked him to serve as Special Prosecutor in the 2020 election subversion case.

Willis argues that the February 15 hearing is not necessary and should be canceled.

“Defendants’ failure to support their demands for extreme relief with evidence that would support any remedy makes an evidentiary hearing on this matter unnecessary,” Willis wrote in a court filing Friday responding to the allegations. “The State respectfully asks that, after consideration of the (Nathan) Wade Affidavit and other submitted exhibits, the motions be denied without further spectacle.”

Willis has no plan to step down

CNN previously reported that Willis has no plans to step down from the election subversion case, a decision driven in part over concern that her departure could effectively end the case, as it’s unclear if there’s another prosecutor in Georgia willing to take it on.

While the allegations have become a huge public focus and distraction for Willis’ office, she had not directly addressed the allegations for weeks but did broadly defend Wade and her team.

The alleged affair was first raised by Trump’s co-defendant, former 2020 campaign official Mike Roman, last month in a court filing that accused Willis of financially benefiting when Wade took her on lavish vacations, partly paid for with what he billed her office for work on the case. Willis appointed Wade special prosecutor in 2021.

But there was little direct evidence included in that initial filing seeking her dismissal and for the case to be tossed, an effort Trump has since joined. Since then, credit card statements revealed in Wade’s divorce case show he paid for two plane tickets for Willis to San Francisco and Miami.

Trump and the 14 remaining co-defendants were indicted by Willis last summer. No trial date has been set yet. Willis has asked for a trial date to be scheduled for August.

Four other co-defendants have already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors to testify.

CNN’s Devan Cole contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.