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'Star witness' can't recall when Georgia DA Fani Willis, Trump special prosecutor began affair

Lawyers for Donald Trump and his codefendants in a Georgia election interference case grilled a key witness on Tuesday as they sought to discredit Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who is prosecuting the former president.

But the defense team grew visibly frustrated as Terrence Bradley, a former law partner of special prosecutor Nathan Wade described as a "star witness" by the trial judge, said he couldn't remember when he learned Wade had begun an affair with Willis.

Defense attorneys hoped that Bradley would testify under oath that Willis began a romantic relationship with the then-married Wade before hiring him on Nov. 1, 2021 to oversee the investigation into Trump's alleged conspiracy to overturn his 2020 loss in Georgia. That would have contradicted sworn testimony by Willis and Wade that their relationship began months later and thus did not create a conflict of interest. Lawyers for Trump and some of his co-defendants have moved to disqualify Willis, Wade and the whole DA's office on the grounds that Willis was allegedly enriched by hiring Wade.

But the effort to elicit damning testimony from Bradley -- who was also Wade’s former divorce lawyer -- fizzled during two hours of often-harsh questioning by one defense attorney after another.

The standoff came after weeks of wrangling over whether Bradley could even discuss what he knew about the relationship because the conversations between Bradley and Wade, his then-client, were protected by lawyer-client privilege. On Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ordered Bradley to undergo a second day of testimony on Tuesday, after his earlier appearance during an earlier hearing produced no evidence.

Expectations for Bradley's testimony Tuesday were sky high, especially after defense lawyers introduced into evidence a series of texts in which Bradley appeared to say he knew that Willis's affair with Wade actually began years before they claimed it had. In addition to texting Bradley, defense lawyer Ashleigh Merchant had also emailed him a draft copy of her motion to dismiss Willis and Wade days before filing it on Jan. 8.

After reading the lengthy motion, Bradley responded, "Looks good," according to Merchant, whose motion to dismiss made international headlines and led to the hearings. McAfee, who recently referred to Bradley as Merchant's "star witness" because of her efforts to get him to testify, said Tuesday that he will hear final arguments on the issue on Friday.

Smoking gun texts, or something far more speculative?

The texts between Bradley and Merchant occurred early last month as she was seeking information about Wade and Willis. Her motion alleged that Willis improperly hired Wade to prosecute Donald Trump and financially benefited from their relationship because Wade, a private attorney, had paid for vacations he took with Willis using some of the more than $650,000 in Fulton County funds he and his law firm received for overseeing the Trump case. Wade and Willis say Willis repaid Wade in cash for the travel.

But on Tuesday Bradley said he didn't know when Willis and Wade began their affair, saying Wade only mentioned it in one conversation at their law office. He said could not recall when that conversation occurred, despite insistent -- and at times incredulous -- prodding from a handful of defense lawyers who took turns questioning him.

Using polite and as brief answers as possible, Bradley also shut down defense lawyers' questioning about his text and emails with Merchant, saying they were nothing close to the smoking gun that Merchant had suggested.

Steven Sadow, a lawyer for Trump, showed Bradley a printout of a text in which Merchant asked him, "Do you think it started before she hired him?" in reference to the affair. Bradley confirmed that he did, in fact, respond by saying, "Absolutely."

"After you said, 'Absolutely,' you said, 'It started when she left the DA's office and was a judge in South Fulton,' " Sadow added.

Yes, Bradley said. But, he added, "I was speculating."

Other defense lawyers repeatedly attacked Bradley's answers, suggested that he was now trying to distance himself from his comments to Merchant because of their potential to discredit -- and even disqualify -- Willis and Wade.

Bradley said that was not the case. But he couldn't explain why he told Merchant when he thought the affair began if he didn't know it to be true. He also said that when he said the draft disqualification memo looked "good," he was only referring to the narrow issue of how much money he'd been paid for a Fulton County contract, not about the details regarding Willis and Wade.

"I never witnessed anything" about their affair, Bradley testified under questioning from Merchant, who is representing former Trump election official Michael Roman,. "It was speculation. I can’t tell you anything specific, if that’s what you’re asking."

"Did you have any reason to lie to me?" Merchant asked.

"I don’t know if speculation is lying," Bradley responded.

More: 'Lies': Fani Willis fights push to remove her from Donald Trump Georgia case

Another witness also saw Willis and Wade 'hugging, kissing'

Two weeks ago, a former longtime friend of Willis testified that Willis and Wade began their affair well before she hired him as special prosecutor in the sprawling racketeering case against Trump and an initial 18 other defendants. (Four of Trump's codefendants have pleaded guilty.)

Robin Yeartie, who worked briefly for Willis at the DA’s office, said Willis told her about her romance with Wade shortly after the two met at the judicial conference in 2019, and continued until she and Willis had a falling out several years later. Yeartie also said she personally saw the two “hugging, kissing” and expressing affection.

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 16: Witness Terrence Bradley looks on from the witness stand during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on February 16, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. Judge Scott McAfee is hearing testimony as to whether DA Fani Willis and Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade should be disqualified from the case for allegedly lying about a personal relationship. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images)

An urgent effort to rebut new accusations

During his earlier appearance on the stand, lawyers for Fulton County immediately sought to rebut Bradley’s testimony by saying he had a personal vendetta against Wade because he was forced to leave their mutual law practice, and stop being Wade’s divorce lawyer, in 2022 after an employee at their law firm accused Bradley of sexual assault. While Bradley vehemently denied the sexual assault allegations, he acknowledged the woman was paid an undisclosed amount of money from an escrow account.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Fulton County had no questions for Bradley on cross-examination.

McAfee, the presiding judge in the election fraud trial, did not indicate how he will weigh the new information when deciding whether to grant the motion to disqualify Willis, Wade and the DA’s office or even to dismiss the whole case.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Star' defense witness doesn't rebut Trump DA Fani Willis' affair claims