Inside the love tryst threatening to derail Trump’s most serious criminal case

Donald Trump says the 'lovebirds', District Attorney Fani Willis and Nathan Wade must face the 'appropriate consequences'
Donald Trump says the 'lovebirds', District Attorney Fani Willis and Nathan Wade, must face the 'appropriate consequences' - CHP
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

For critics of Donald Trump, the election interference case in Georgia has often been presented as a “slam dunk”.

Here, after all, was the former president allegedly caught on tape asking a top official to “find” the 11,000 or so votes he needed to win the “Peach State” and deny Joe Biden victory.

But six months after Mr Trump and 18 others were charged, the prosecution is under scrutiny because of an allegedly “improper” relationship between District Attorney Fani Willis and the lawyer she hired to head the case.

A judge on Thursday will open a hearing into whether the claims Ms Willis was taken on luxury cruises by her boyfriend, whom she agreed to pay up to $1 million for his legal services, amount to impropriety.

Although legal experts have cast doubt on the claims (which have been brought by one of Mr Trump’s co-defendants), they are nevertheless feeding his conspiracy narrative and adding to delays in the bid to pin at least one conviction on the former president before the election.

Ms Willis hired Nathan Wade in November 2021 to spearhead the investigation into whether Mr Trump and others broke any laws as they tried to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

One day later, Mr Wade filed for divorce.

It is in legal papers filed to the court by his ex-wife that details of the Willis affair were revealed.

Court papers show Nathan Wade booked  at least two cruises
Court papers show Nathan Wade booked at least two cruises - Joe Raedle/Getty

Both parties accuse the other of having affairs, but to back up claims, Mr Wade’s wife provided credit card statements showing he booked flights for himself and Ms Willis to Miami and on the same day paid more than $2,500 (£1,985) to Royal Caribbean Cruises.

The same statements show $992 paid to the Freedom of the Seas Caribbean cruise liner complete with casino, four swimming pools, a spa and the Bull & Bear English pub. Further payments also show $3,000 to the Norwegian Cruise Line.

“There appears to be no reasonable explanation for their travels apart from a romantic relationship,” lawyers for Mr Wade’s ex-wife said in court filings.

Details of the affair were seized upon by Mike Roman, one of the 19 defendants in Mr Trump’s election interference case.

Lawyers for Mr Roman, who worked at digging up dirt on the opposition in the 2020 campaign, claim the money spent on romantic trips away were part of an exchange for his lucrative contract to prosecute Mr Trump.

The proceedings have been brought by Mike Roman, one of Donald Trump's co-defendants in the election interference case in Georgia
The proceedings have been brought by Mike Roman, one of Donald Trump's co-defendants in the election interference case in Georgia

In a filing by Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer for Mr Roman, it was alleged Mr Wade also had “lack of relevant experience” but nevertheless been paid up to $650,000 in legal fees since being appointed.

“Accordingly, the district attorney and the special prosecutor have violated laws regulating the use of public monies, suffer from irreparable conflicts of interest, and have violated their oaths of office under the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct and should be disqualified from prosecuting this matter,” according to the 127-page filing.

Ms Willis’s lawyers have dismissed the case as based on mere “gossip”.

But Mr Trump has wasted no time in seizing on the revelations, claiming that Ms Willis and her “lover” had “perpetrated a conspiracy” to enrich themselves and interfere in the 2024 race.

“This case is a hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia (and all of the rest!), and everybody in America knows it,” he said on social media.

On another occasion, he wrote “The Lovers knew that I did nothing wrong,” adding: “The Lovebirds should face appropriate consequences.”

Donald Trump is is sticking the knife in while also trying to derail or delay the three other criminal cases he is facing
Donald Trump hopes to derail or delay the three other criminal cases he is facing - EDUARDO MUNOZ/reuters

The former president is sticking the knife in while also trying to derail or delay the three other criminal cases his opponents are desperate to push through before election day in November. Prosecutions are likely to pause if Mr Trump enters the White House.

A central part of the Georgia prosecution, brought under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation Act, was the recording of a Jan 2 2021 phone call from Mr Trump to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State.

During that call, he asked him to “help” find additional votes. Mr Raffensperger declined to do so, and Mr Biden won by 11,845 votes, the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and insisted he had the right to act as he did.

It is unclear whether Ms Willis will be able to continue to oversee the prosecution of Mr Trump and others, including Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis.

“I think it’s possible that the facts alleged by the defendant could result in disqualification,” Judge Scott McAfee said this week. “I think an evidentiary hearing must occur to establish the record on those core allegations.”

The judge, who is overseeing the case against Mr Trump, said Ms Willis should appear to answer the allegations on Thursday and provide evidence.

“I think the issues at point here are whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic or non-romantic in nature, when it formed and whether it continues,” he said.

Legal arguments ‘weak’

Experts say the efforts to disqualify Ms Willis and her lead lawyer are based on weak legal arguments but the judge will also be weighing whether the case is being affected by the appearance of impropriety.

“While she [Ms Willis] may eventually win and show that there wasn’t any actual conflict of interest, this is still just very bad news for the case generally, in terms of public perception,” Caren Morrison, an associate law professor at Georgia State University, told The New York Times.

Ms Willis and Mr Wade were forced to admit last month to having a “personal” relationship after claims were made to disqualify them.

They insisted there was nothing inappropriate about it as Ms Willis, a mother-of-two, has been divorced since 2005 and had been seeing Mr Wade since 2022.

In a court filing in her defence, Ms Willis’s office said she and Mr Wade had in 2022  “developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship”.

However, she insisted she had no “no financial conflict of interest that constitutes a legal basis for disqualification” from the case and had “no personal conflict of interest”.

In a separate affidavit, Mr Wade said he and Ms Willis were “both financially independent professionals; expenses or personal travel were roughly divided equally between us”.

He added: “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.”

Long before the relationship became public, Ms Willis said she found it difficult to find a suitable prosecutor due to concerns about personal security while working against Mr Trump.

She said Mr Wade was not her first choice. “But he wasn’t afraid. And I needed someone not afraid,” she told The New York Times in 2022.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.