How misconduct allegations against Fani Willis could impact her prosecution of Trump

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis
Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference in Atlanta on Aug. 14, 2023. (John Bazemore/AP)
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Allegations that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had an improper relationship with Nathan Wade — the man she picked to lead the prosecution of former President Donald Trump on election interference charges — threaten to upend the case. Here’s what you need to know about the controversy.

Who is Fani Willis?

Willis is the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., which includes most of Atlanta.

In February 2021, Willis began investigating Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss in Georgia by concocting false slates of electors and pressuring Georgia officials to “find” enough votes for him to overtake Joe Biden’s margin of victory. Two and a half years later, in August 2023, she indicted Trump and 18 of his alleged co-conspirators for engaging in a criminal racketeering enterprise.

Willis, a Democrat, spent 16 years as a prosecutor in the Fulton County district attorney's office before being elected to the top job in 2020. She graduated cum laude from Howard University in 1993 and earned a law degree from Emory University in 1996.

Who is Nathan Wade?

Wade is the top prosecutor under Willis on the 2020 Georgia election interference case. CBS News has described Wade as “a friend and mentor [to Willis] over the years” who was “not brought on to be the lead courtroom lawyer in the case [but rather to] play a more behind-the-scenes role — organizing the sprawling investigation, running the grand jury process and hammering out immunity deals.”

CBS News also reported that Willis hired Wade after two other top candidates declined her offer to accept the role.

Wade previously served as a prosecutor in the Cobb County, Ga., solicitor general's office and as a municipal judge in Marietta, Ga. He joined Willis’s investigation from private practice, where he specialized in civil litigation, contract law and family disputes.

What are the allegations against Willis and Wade?

Last week, Willis was accused of several forms of misconduct: engaging in a romantic relationship with Wade; paying Wade’s firm hundreds of thousands of dollars more than other firms working on the case; and joining Wade on Caribbean cruises and trips to Florida and California’s Napa Valley that may have been paid for with taxpayer money.

The sensational allegations raise questions about why Willis hired Wade — an outside attorney with no experience trying complex felony cases, let alone leading a multidefendant racketeering prosecution — rather than relying on civil servants. If true, the accusations “could present a conflict of interest or … amount to fraud,” according to the Washington Post.

Who is accusing Willis of misconduct?

The misconduct allegations against Willis first surfaced in a court filing by Mike Roman, a former high-ranking Trump aide who is now one of Trump’s 14 remaining co-defendants in Georgia.

Roman is seeking to have the charges against him thrown out and to have both Willis and Wade “disqualified from prosecuting” the case for allegedly engaging in an “improper, clandestine personal relationship” that has “resulted in [them] profiting significantly … at the expense of the taxpayers” while violating “laws regulating the use of public monies” and “their oaths of office.”

Significantly, Roman’s filing contains no proof to substantiate his allegations, and his attorney has said only that the information comes from “sources close” to Willis and Wade as well as sealed records from Wade’s divorce proceedings.

On Friday, a filing in the divorce case made on behalf of Wade’s estranged wife showed that Wade purchased airline tickets in his and Willis’s name for trips to San Francisco and Miami — trips that took place after Willis hired Wade.

On the same day that Roman’s initial motion was filed, Willis was served with a subpoena from lawyers for Wade’s wife seeking to question her in the couple's divorce. In a filing Thursday meant to quash the subpoena, Willis’s lawyers accused Wade’s wife of “conspir[ing] with interested parties in the criminal Election Interference Case to use the civil discovery process to annoy, embarrass, and oppress” the DA.

What have the people involved said on the matter?

Willis has not directly addressed accusations of an affair. But speaking Sunday at a historically Black church in Atlanta, she lauded Wade as “a superstar” with “impeccable credentials” who has served as a judge, private attorney, prosecutor, criminal defense lawyer and special attorney general — before implying that Roman’s allegations were fueled by racism.

“I'm just asking God, is it that some will never see a Black man as qualified, no matter his achievements? What more can one achieve?” Willis said. “I appointed three special counsels, as is my right to do. Paid them all the same hourly rate. They only attacked one.”

Speaking to the Associated Press this week, Roman’s lawyer accused Willis of trying “to create a conspiracy where none exists.”

What does this mean for Willis’s case?

The Georgia judge overseeing Willis’s criminal election interference and racketeering case has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for Feb. 15 to address the motion to disqualify the DA and her special prosecutor. He has given Willis until Feb. 2 to file a response to Roman’s allegations.

The case is unlikely to be dismissed outright even if the allegations are proven true. But if a conflict of interest can be shown — if, for instance, Willis extended her investigation to benefit Wade financially — then Willis (and by extension, the entire Fulton County DA’s office) could be disqualified, forcing the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to transfer the case to another DA’s office or to take charge itself.