Fani Willis Can Stay On Trump Case If She Fires Her Former Lover, Judge Rules

Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Getty Images)
March 15, 2024

Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis must fire the special prosecutor with whom she allegedly had an illicit affair, or she and her entire office must withdraw from her election interference case against former president Donald Trump.

The choice is hers, a Georgia judge ruled Friday.

Fulton County Superior Court judge Scott McAfee’s decision to let Willis remain on the case against the former president and his co-defendants is a win for the Democratic prosecutor but came at a severe cost to her personal reputation. Willis’s case has been in disarray ever since Trump co-defendant Michael Roman alleged in early January that Willis had been in a clandestine romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade when she hired him in November 2021 to lead the case against the former president. Willis has since paid Wade more than $650,000 in legal fees, earnings he then used to finance lavish vacations for the pair.

McAfee, who donated $150 to Willis’s campaign in June 2020 prior to his appointment as a Fulton County judge, said in February that the allegations "could result" in Willis’s disqualification if there was even the appearance of a conflict of interest in her relationship with Wade.

Willis and Wade acknowledged their romantic relationship during televised hearings in February, but both said their entanglement began after Willis brought on Wade to serve as special prosecutor in November 2021. Willis also confirmed she had gone on several vacations with Wade while he was employed by her office, but the district attorney claimed she repaid Wade in cash for her share of the trips. Willis did not produce receipts backing up her statement, saying she keeps up to $15,000 in cash in her home at all times, a stash fed by periodic cash-back withdrawals from grocery stores.

But several witnesses came forward testifying that Willis’s relationship with Wade began long before she hired him to serve as special prosecutor.

Robin Yeartie, a former friend and co-worker of Willis, testified during the February hearings that Willis and Wade began their relationship in 2019 and that she saw the pair hugging and kissing before Wade joined Willis’s team in late 2021.

Another witness, Wade’s former law partner Terrence Bradley, divulged information about the relationship to several individuals during private conversations in 2023. Cobb County co-chief deputy district attorney Cindi Lee Yeager and former Georgia State School of Law adjunct professor Manny Arora say Bradley said during private conversations that Wade had "definitely begun a romantic relationship with Willis" in 2019 and even had a garage opener to access Willis’s apartment at the time.

Bradley provided similar testimony to Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for Roman, the Trump co-defendant. But Bradley later testified in court that he was merely speculating in his conversations with Merchant and had no direct knowledge of the timeline of Willis and Wade’s relationship.

McAfee said in his ruling Friday that the witnesses' testimony wasn't sufficient to establish that the relationship began before Wade's hiring but said an "odor of mendacity remains" nonetheless.

Trump attorney Steve Sadow said in a statement Friday he respected McAfee's decision but the judge should have placed more significance on allegations that Willis engaged in prosecutorial misconduct when she said during a church sermon in January that she was being unfairly targeted because she was black.

"We believe that the Court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade, including the financial benefits, testifying untruthfully about when their personal relationship began, as well as Willis’s extrajudicial MLK 'church speech,' where she played the race card and falsely accused the defendants and their counsel of racism," Sadow said.

McAfee gave Willis a pass for her church sermon because she "frequently utilized the plural 'they'" instead of naming Roman, the Trump co-defendant, whom she was referring to in the speech.

"The speech did not specifically mention any Defendant by name," McAfee said. "But it was still legally improper."

Willis still faces scrutiny at the federal level from the House Judiciary Committee over her 2021 firing of a whistleblower who tried to stop Willis’s office from misappropriating federal grant funds.

The whistleblower, Amanda Timpson, recorded herself telling Willis in a Nov. 19, 2021, meeting that the district attorney’s top aide wanted to use federal funds for a youth gang prevention program to pay for "swag," computers, and travel. Willis didn’t dispute the allegations during the meeting, but she fired Timpson less than two months later and had the whistleblower escorted out of her office by seven armed investigators.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) subpoenaed Willis in February for records related to Timpson’s allegations. Jordan said in a letter to Willis Thursday that her response to the subpoena was insufficient and lacked the requested records on Timpson's allegations. He threatened to hold Willis in contempt of Congress if she doesn't fully comply by March 28.

This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information.