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Trump lawyer says Georgia election interference case's prosecutor should be disqualified

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) -A lawyer for Donald Trump on Friday told a Georgia judge that the lead prosecutor who charged the former U.S. president with election interference should be disqualified because she may have lied to the court about her undisclosed affair with a top deputy.

The lawyer, Steve Sadow, said Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ claim under oath that her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade did not begin until after she hired him was not credible.

“Once you have the appearance of impropriety ... the law in Georgia is clear: That's enough to disqualify," Sadow told Judge Scott McAfee.

Prosecutor Adam Abbate countered that three days of evidentiary hearings yielded "zero evidence" showing how Willis' relationship harmed the defendants' constitutional rights to due process.

"Because of that, the motions to disqualify should be denied," Abbate said.

McAfee said after the hearing that he hoped to rule within two weeks but gave no indication of what he might decide.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and the others are accused of illegally pressuring Georgia officials to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state to President Joe Biden.

Trump has pleaded not guilty, along with his 14 co-defendants.

A ruling in favor of Trump and his allies could further bog down a complex racketeering case that already faces a potentially long road to trial.

Disqualification of Willis would not necessarily end the case, as she would likely be replaced with a different district attorney.

But this would lead to significant delays, and a new prosecutor could narrow the charges or decide not to pursue the case.

The closing arguments before McAfee on Friday follow a series of evidentiary hearings where Willis conceded having an affair with Wade but accused a defense lawyer of lying about the timing and nature of the relationship.

The affair was first revealed in a January filing by a lawyer for Michael Roman, who said it posed a conflict of interest and improperly enriched Wade.

Willis and Wade testified that the relationship did not begin until after Wade was hired, and prosecutors have said the relationship is irrelevant to the case because it did not harm the defendants.

Defense lawyers have accused the prosecutors of lying to the court, saying the relationship began before Wade was hired. In court papers filed last week, Trump's attorney cited location data from Wade’s cellphone suggesting he made numerous late-night visits to Willis’ home before she appointed him.

Trump is under indictment in three other state or federal criminal cases.

He is set to stand trial on March 25 in New York in a case accusing him of illegally covering up hush money payments to a porn star, which could be the only trial he faces before the November election.

Trump has also been charged in Washington over his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss, but that case is paused until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether he is immune from prosecution over actions he took while in office.

He is also under indictment in Florida over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office. The judge overseeing that case held a hearing on Friday on Trump's bid to move his May 20 trial date.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all those cases and says they are part of a politically motivated plot to undermine his bid for office.

If he wins the presidency, Trump could use his presidential powers to end the Washington and Florida cases because they were brought in federal court.

He would not have the power to stop the Georgia case because it was brought in state court.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Daniel Wallis, Jonathan Oatis and Chizu Nomiyama)