Texts reveal shadowy role witness played in defense attorney’s push to disqualify Willis from Trump case

Nick Valencia, CNN | 2/29/2024, 9:40 a.m.
A key witness in the push to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the Georgia election case against Donald Trump …
Terrence Bradley, special prosecutor Nathan Wade’s former law partner and onetime divorce attorney, testifies in court Tuesday, February 27. Mandatory Credit: Brynn Anderson/Pool/AP via CNN Newsource

A key witness in the push to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the Georgia election case against Donald Trump had a much deeper involvement in the effort than was previously known, according to hundreds of text messages obtained by CNN.

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Honig: Newly obtained texts 'badly undermine' key witness testimony in push to disqualify Willis

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig joins Jake Tapper to discuss the impact of text messages obtained by CNN revealing the role a key witness played in the push to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the Georgia election case against Donald Trump. Source: CNN

The 413 texts between Terrence Bradley and Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for one of Trump’s co-defendants, reveal months of communications between the two, underscoring the extent to which Bradley assisted Merchant’s pursuit of evidence to back up claims Willis and her top prosecutor, Nathan Wade, engaged in an improper romantic relationship.

On Tuesday, Bradley reluctantly testified for more than two hours about the romantic relationship between Willis and Wade, Bradley’s former law partner and one-time client.

The text messages raise questions about Bradley’s credibility, and the degree to which Merchant appeared to rely on his claims that she was then unable to substantiate elsewhere. They also shed new light on his testimony and how it failed to meet the expectations of defense attorneys who had billed Bradley as the star witness in their bid to disqualify Willis.

Megyn Kelly first reported the texts Wednesday afternoon on her Sirius XM show.

Wade and Willis have admitted to being romantically involved, but both have testified their relationship started after Willis appointed Wade lead prosecutor in the Trump case. Merchant has alleged their relationship amounts to a conflict of interest and that there is evidence they lied about when it began.

Citing financial statements turned up in Wade’s divorce proceeding, Merchant has claimed Willis financially benefited when Wade took her on lavish vacations after she hired him as special prosecutor. Willis has denied there was anything improper about their relationship.

However, potentially conflicting information about when exactly the romance started remains a central issue that could still derail Willis’s prosecution against Trump.

Bradley was supposed to clear up that point. Merchant had said that he would contradict testimony from Willis and Wade once he took the stand. But instead, Bradley said he couldn’t remember certain details and that he had been speculating over text message with Merchant when he told her the relationship “absolutely” started before Wade’s appointment.

That remark from Bradley on Tuesday led to several heated exchanges with defense attorneys including Trump’s lead counsel Steve Sadow.

“Why would you speculate when she was asking you a direct question about when the relationship started?” Sadow pushed.

“I have no answer for that,” Bradley responded.

“Except for the fact that you do in fact, know when it started and you don’t want to testify to that in court,” Sadow shot back. “That’s the best explanation.”

Bradley’s testimony on Tuesday, when he frequently couldn’t remember details and seemed uncomfortable with the line of questioning, stands in stark contrast to the tone of his prior text messages with Merchant.

The additional text messages show Bradley calling Merchant his “friend,” offering unsolicited advice, and also bashing Willis and Wade, Bradley’s former law partner.

Bradley left their law firm in 2022 after allegations surfaced that Bradley sexually assaulted an employee at the firm. Bradley denied those allegations while testifying at an earlier hearing over Willis’s potential disqualification.

Over months of texts, Bradley on a number of occasions disparaged Wade and Willis, calling them “arrogant as f” in one January text to Merchant.

Bradley also indicated that he didn’t want to be directly connected to the allegations and expressed a desire not to be named as the initial source of the information.

“I protected you completely,” Merchant told Bradley about the draft of her motion to disqualify. “Not that you need protection,” Merchant texted. “But I kept you out of it.”

“I really appreciate you keeping me out of,” Bradley replied.

Despite his desire to remain behind the scenes, Bradley provided Merchant with the names of several people he believed to have first-hand knowledge of when Willis and Wade’s romantic relationship began.

“Subpoena them all,” Bradley says in a text to Merchant on January 7, 2024, referring to a list of names that included other prosecutors in the DA’s office, members of Willis’ security detail and others close to her.

At one point Bradley and Merchant even discussed subpoenaing Willis’s children to confirm the existence of a romantic relationship between Willis and Wade.

But Merchant ultimately failed to secure testimony that the relationship began before Wade’s appointment from more than one of the witnesses she discussed with Bradley and subsequently subpoenaed.

That appears to have forced Merchant to call Bradley, himself, to take the stand despite her previous assurances.

CNN legal analyst and former US attorney Michael Moore said it will be up to Judge Scott McAfee to decide how much weight to place on the newly filed text messages versus what Bradley said in open court on Tuesday.

“I do think the judge can certainly give that a certain amount of credence,” Moore said about how the texts would factor into his ultimate decision of whether or not to disqualify Willis from the case.

This story has been updated to reflect that Megyn Kelly first reported the tweets on Wednesday afternoon.