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(Bloomberg) -- Fani Willis admitted she’s had a “personal relationship” with the lead prosecutor in the Georgia election-conspiracy case against Donald Trump and others, but denied he was a romantic partner when she hired him or that they engaged in any misconduct.
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Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, used a court filing Friday to address a Jan. 8 motion by Trump co-defendant Michael Roman that seeks dismissal of the indictment or removal of Willis, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade and the DA’s office from the sprawling case. Wade filed an affidavit saying he’s had a personal relationship with Willis that began after she hired him in 2021.
“In 2022, District Attorney Willis and I developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship,” Wade said in the affidavit. “No funds paid to me in compensation for my role as special prosecutor have been shared with or provided to District Attorney Willis.”
The “personal relationship” has never involved “direct or indirect financial benefit to Willis,” they have no shared financial accounts, and they have never lived together, according to the DA’s filing. When they travel together, the cost is “divided roughly evenly between the two, with neither being primarily responsible for expenses of the other.”
“Both are professionals with substantial income; neither is financially reliant on the other,” it said.
Roman accused Willis and Wade of having a secret romance when she hired him and taking vacations together, while Wade earned more than $650,000 in taxpayer money from the case since 2021. Roman asked a judge to dismiss racketeering charges against Trump and others accused of illegally trying to reverse President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Trump lawyer Steve Sadow also claimed Willis violated state bar rules, claiming she’s “inappropriately injected race” into the case.
“The Fulton County DA’s response asks the Court to turn a blind eye to her alleged personal and financial misconduct,” Sadow said. “Our requested remedy remains clear: dismiss the case and disqualify the DA, together with her team and office, from any related matters.”
Speculation about Willis’s relationship with Wade fueled a scandal that grew as she refused to comment beyond a Jan. 14 church speech when she said she was “flawed” and her critics were “playing the race card.” Willis, an elected Democrat, brought one of four criminal cases against Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to face Biden again. Both Willis and Wade face calls to step down. The filing made one point clear — they will stay and fight.
‘Ticket to the Circus’
Willis blasted the defendants for seeking “breathless media coverage” and intruding into her and Wade’s personal lives to “embarrass and harass” them.
“This is not an example of zealous advocacy, nor is it a good faith effort to develop a record on a disputed legal issue — it is a ticket to the circus,” the filing said.
Trump offered no direct evidence that Willis was motivated to treat him differently because of race, it said. Rather, his motion “appears designed to generate media attention rather than accomplish some form of legitimate legal practice.” The filing includes several examples of racial epithets sent to Willis.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing on the matter. Roman attorney Ashleigh Merchant subpoenaed a dozen witnesses, including Willis and Wade. The DA’s office said it would seek to block the subpoenas.
Trump continued his invective against Wade in a social media post. “By going after the most high level person, and the Republican Nominee, she was able to get her ‘lover’ much more money, almost a Million Dollars, than she would be able to get for the prosecution of any other person or individual,” he wrote. “THAT MEANS THAT THIS SCAM IS TOTALLY DISCREDITED & OVER!”
Trump has frequently attacked Willis, accusing her and other Black prosecutors who’ve charged him of being “racist” without explaining why.
Prosecutors wrote that Wade is being paid $250 an hour, or the same rate as two other special prosecutors on the case. “Special Prosecutor Wade made much more money than the other special prosecutors only because Wade did much more work” on the case, the filing said. It said the defendants base their conflict of interest claims on “fantastical theories and rank speculation.”
“Defendants have done nothing to establish an actual conflict of interest, nor have they shown that, in the handling of the case, District Attorney Willis or Special Prosecutor Wade have acted out of any personal or financial motivation,” prosecutors wrote. “The record before the court falls far short of requiring disqualification or dismissal of the indictment.”
Wade, a private attorney, filed for divorce from his wife on the day after Willis appointed him in November 2021. His wife, Joycelyn, complained in a court filing that he’d left her “without any means of financial support” and stonewalled her lawyers as they repeatedly tried to gather financial information.
Her lawyers filed records in the divorce case showing Wade bought Willis plane tickets to travel together to Miami and San Francisco. The couple reached an agreement this week to cancel a hearing in divorce court that was expected to focus in part on Wade’s relationship with Willis.
The 176-page Willis filing included photos of Merchant supporting Wade’s unsuccessful candidacy in 2016 for Cobb County Superior Court judge. Hours later, Merchant fired back with a 25-page response. She suggested the DA had not been truthful and that more embarrassing evidence would come out. She attached travel records for a trip that Willis and Wade took in 2022 to Aruba and questioned whether their affair actually began in 2019, not 2022 as they claim.
“If they had nothing to hide in the first place because they did nothing wrong, then why did they intentionally not tell anyone about it until they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar?” Merchant wrote.
Willis faces other political headaches. Georgia’s Republican-controlled state Senate last week approved a special committee to examine if she inappropriately spent state funds to prosecute Trump. The committee, which makes recommendations on state spending, does not have the ability to sanction the district attorney. She was also subpoenaed Friday by the House Judiciary Committee for documents relating to allegations that her office misused a $488,000 federal grant.
(Updates with Roman filing on Friday.)
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