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Trump legal news brief: Nathan Wade resigns as special prosecutor in Georgia election interference case

Yahoo News' succinct daily update on the criminal and civil cases against the 45th president of the United States.

Fani Willis.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis during a hearing in the Georgia election interference case in Atlanta on March 1. (Alex Slitz/AP)

Nathan Wade resigns as special prosecutor after a Georgia judge rules that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can continue prosecuting her racketeering case against former President Donald Trump if Wade — with whom she had a secret romantic relationship — is removed from the case. And a New York judge agrees to delay the start of Trump’s hush-money trial from March 25 until mid-April after the former president’s lawyers complained that they were not given enough time to review more than 100,000 pages of recently disclosed documents.

Georgia election interference

Judge rules Fani Willis can stay on if Wade leaves

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, special prosecutor Nathan Wade

  • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee found there was no “actual conflict” brought about by the relationship, but that it created the “appearance of impropriety.”

  • As a result, McAfee ruled that either Willis or Wade must be removed from the case for it to continue. Wade submitted a formal letter of resignation to Willis on Friday afternoon.

  • Trump and 18 others were indicted by a grand jury in Georgia on criminal charges stemming from Willis’s long-running investigation into their attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state.

  • Trump co-defendant Michael Roman accused Willis of misconduct because of her “clandestine” relationship with Nathan Wade, whom she appointed as special counsel.

  • Roman alleged that Willis and Wade did not disclose their relationship while benefitting financially from their prosecution of Trump and his allies. McAfee disagreed.

  • “Without sufficient evidence that the District Attorney acquired a personal stake in the prosecution, or that her financial arrangements had any impact on the case, the Defendants’ claims of an actual conflict must be denied,” the judge wrote.

Why it matters: The case had been on hold for more than two months due to the saga brought on by Willis and Wade’s tryst. Willis can continue her prosecution of Trump and his associates in Georgia.

New York hush money

Judge agrees to a 30-day trial delay to resolve key questions about newly disclosed documents.

Key players: Judge Juan Merchan, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal

  • In his ruling Friday, Merchan said the trial — which was scheduled to start March 25 — is now “adjourned for 30 days from the date of this letter” after Trump’s lawyers complained that they had only just started to receive more than 100,000 pages of potential evidence from a previous Justice Department investigation into Trump’s alleged hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign.

  • The delay will push the new trial date to mid-April at the earliest. Until now, this had been the only one of Trump’s trials not to face significant delays.

  • In the meantime, Merchan has scheduled a hearing for March 25 to resolve “significant questions of fact" regarding “who, if anyone, is at fault for the late production of the documents” and whether any sanctions are warranted.

  • Trump’s lawyers have accused Bragg of flouting his obligation to disclose the documents in a timely manner. Merchan has demanded a full timeline of events and all correspondence between Bragg’s office and federal prosecutors.

  • Previously, prosecutors in Bragg’s office told Merchan that they would not oppose a 30-day delay. The U.S. attorney's office [USAO] in Manhattan “produced approximately 31,000 pages of additional records [on Wednesday] and represented that there will be another production of documents by next week," prosecutors wrote to Merchan on Thursday. "Those records appear to contain materials related to the subject matter of this case, including materials that the People requested from the USAO more than a year ago and that the USAO previously declined to provide."

  • Trump’s lawyers had sought a 90-day delay to review the new evidence.

  • Trump is accused of violating New York state tax and campaign finance laws when he paid off Daniels and McDougal in 2016, allegedly to hide his extramarital affairs with both women.

Why it matters: Trump’s lawyers have been effective in their strategy of attempting to delay the start of the four criminal trials facing the former president until after the 2024 election. But according to the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say it is very or somewhat important “that voters get a verdict in Trump’s trials before the 2024 election” — and less than a third (32%) would approve of “delaying Trump’s federal trials until after the election, making it possible for him to dismiss them if he wins.”

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Thursday, March 14

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Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Judge Aileen Cannon denies a motion by former President Donald Trump to dismiss the classified documents case against him on the grounds that the Espionage Act contains “unconstitutional vagueness.” Here are the latest developments.

Classified documents

Judge Cannon denies Trump’s motion to dismiss case on ‘unconstitutional vagueness’ grounds

Key players: Judge Aileen Cannon, special counsel Jack Smith

  • After hearing arguments Thursday from prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers on the question of whether to dismiss the charges against the former president on the grounds that the Espionage Act contains “unconstitutional vagueness,” Cannon ruled to dismiss Trump’s motion, the Associated Press reported.

  • The argument put forth by Trump’s lawyers “depends too greatly on contested instructional questions about still-fluctuating definitions of statutory terms/phrases as charged, along with at least some disputed factual issues as raised in the motion,” Cannon wrote, adding that a jury would be left to decide those issues.

  • Cannon has yet to rule on the second motion Trump’s lawyers filed to try to get her to dismiss all of the charges in the indictment filed by Smith. That motion contends that the Presidential Records Act protected Trump from prosecution over his hoarding of classified documents after leaving the White House.

  • Prosecutors say the opposite is true.

  • Cannon appeared skeptical during Thursday’s hearing on that question, saying it would be "difficult to see" how she might dismiss the charges on those grounds.

  • Trump was in court Thursday to witness the hearing.

Why it matters: A Trump appointee, Cannon has been criticized often regarding her rulings in the case so far. Thursday’s ruling showed, however, that not every Trump argument will go his way in her courtroom.

Recommended reading

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Wednesday, March 13

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Former President Donald Trump is expected to attend a Thursday hearing in Judge Aileen Cannon’s Florida courtroom on whether to dismiss the felony charges against him brought by special counsel Jack Smith stemming from his handling of classified documents. In a blow to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Judge Scott McAfee dismisses six of the felony counts against Trump and some of his co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case. Trump still faces 10 criminal counts in the state, and the judge said that Willis could go back to the grand jury to seek to have the six dismissed charges restored. Here are the latest legal developments facing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for 2024.

Classified documents

Trump expected to attend classified documents hearing on Thursday

Key players: Judge Aileen Cannon, special counsel Jack Smith

  • Trump is expected to attend Thursday’s hearing at which Cannon, a Trump appointee, will hear arguments on whether the Presidential Records Act enabled Trump to designate classified documents as personal items upon leaving the White House at the end of his term, ABC News reported.

  • “President Trump was still the President of the United States when, for example, many of the documents at issue were packed (presumably by the GSA), transported, and delivered to Mar-A-Lago,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in a filing to Cannon.

  • Smith’s team countered in their own filing that Trump’s argument is simply that he is above the law.

  • “Trump’s claims rest on three fundamental errors, all of which reflect his view that, as a former President, the Nation’s laws and principles of accountability that govern every other citizen do not apply to him,” prosecutors wrote.

  • Also at issue is Trump’s contention that the Espionage Act is too vaguely written to be used to prosecute him.

  • “There is far too much indeterminacy around the meaning of ‘unauthorized possession’ with respect to President Trump and the types of documents at issue,” his lawyers wrote in a filing to Cannon.

  • In their response to that argument, prosecutors said that “Trump could not have failed to understand the paramount importance of protecting the Nation’s national-security and military secrets, including the obligations not to take unauthorized possession of, or willfully retain, national defense information.”

Why it matters: Cannon has already issued rulings in the case that have been overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal experts have criticized her delays in the trial schedule and her willingness to schedule Thursday’s hearing to dismiss the charges altogether.

Georgia election interference

Judge dismisses six of 41 charges in Georgia case

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, pro-Trump lawyers John Eastman, Ray Smith and Robert Cheeley, Trump lawyer Steve Sadow, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis

  • McAfee issued a ruling Wednesday dismissing six of the 41 felony charges made by Willis in her indictments of Trump and 18 others involving their efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia, the Associated Press reported.

  • McAfee did not dismiss the case outright, however, as lawyers for the defendants have sought. The judge said prosecutors had not provided sufficient detail in the indictment regarding the effort by the defendants to pressure lawmakers in the Georgia legislature to appoint an alternate slate of presidential electors.

  • “The lack of detail concerning an essential legal element is, in the undersigned's opinion, fatal,” McAfee wrote. “They do not give the Defendants enough information to prepare their defenses intelligently."

  • Trump’s lawyer praised the decision: “The ruling is a correct application of the law, as the prosecution failed to make specific allegations of any alleged wrongdoing on those counts.”

  • But McAfee gave Willis and her team six months to come up with supplemental information regarding the six charges and resubmit the case to a grand jury.

  • The judge’s dismissal of the six charges means that Trump, Giuliani, Meadows, Eastman, Smith and Cheeley now face fewer felony counts. Trump, the driving force behind the effort to overturn Georgia’s election results, now faces 10 criminal counts in the state, down from 13 originally filed against him.

  • McAfee is also expected to rule this week on whether to disqualify Willis from prosecuting the case against Trump and the remaining defendants (four of whom have already pleaded guilty in the case).

Why it matters: While prosecutors could opt to go back to a grand jury to present the detail sought by McAfee to secure new indictments on the six dismissed charges, doing so would push the timetable for the start of a trial back significantly.

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Tuesday, March 12

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Prosecutors with New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office submit a court filing asking Judge Anil Singh to make former President Donald Trump pay the full $464 million bond amount as he appeals the judgment in his financial fraud trial. Singh has already rejected Trump’s request to pay just $100 million of that amount. Here are the latest legal developments involving the Republican presidential frontrunner for 2024.

New York financial fraud

Prosecutors tell judge Trump should pay full $464 million bond

Key players: Senior Assistant Solicitor of New York Dennis Fan, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Appellate Judge Anil Singh, Judge Arthur Engoron

  • On Monday, James’s team submitted a court filing to Singh arguing that Trump should be made to pay the full $464 million bond ordered by Engoron in the New York financial fraud trial while he appeals that staggering judgment, ABC News reported.

  • Fan wrote that Trump might seek to avoid paying the full bond amount, which includes nearly $355 million in penalties and roughly $100 million in interest.

  • "That requirement applies to defendant Donald J. Trump and his co-defendants, just as it applies to any other appellant," Fan wrote in the filing.

  • Trump’s lawyers offered to pay just $100 million of the total bond, telling Singh that he would have to sell off some real estate assets to raise the full amount.

  • Singh denied that proposal, but stayed Engoron’s ruling that prevented Trump from obtaining loans in New York to raise the full bond. Singh also gave prosecutors until yesterday to issue their response.

  • The full appeals court will weigh in on the bond amount and hear Trump’s appeal of Engoron’s ruling, but Fan, in Monday’s filing, said the chances of Trump winning were slim.

  • "Defendants are exceedingly unlikely to succeed on the merits of their appeal. Defendants engaged in brazen fraud and illegality to enrich themselves through the use of Mr. Trump’s false and misleading Statements of Financial Condition," the filing said.

  • Trump has already secured a loan from the Federal Insurance Company, a subsidiary of the Chubb Corporation, to pay the $91.6 million bond in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial into an escrow account as he pursues an appeal in that case.

  • Under Engoron’s order, Trump has until March 24 to post bond.

Why it matters: If Trump is compelled to pay the full bond amount in the fraud trial, he could be forced to begin selling off his New York real estate holdings. But if he refuses or is unable to secure another loan to raise that amount, James could begin to seize some of his assets.

Recommended reading

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Monday, March 11

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After posting a $91.6 million bond on Friday, former president Donald Trump continues to do the thing that resulted in the judgment against him: defame columnist E. Jean Carroll. Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan responds to remarks Trump made at a Georgia rally and during an interview with CNBC by noting that the statute of limitations has not expired. Trump’s attorneys file a motion to delay the March 25 start date of his hush money trial, saying the judge should allow for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in first on the question of whether presidential immunity protects him from prosecution. Here are the latest legal developments involving the Republican presidential frontrunner.

E. Jean Carroll defamation

Trump continues to call E. Jean Carroll a liar — and Carroll’s lawyer is listening

Key players: columnist E. Jean Carroll, Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan, Judge Lewis Kaplan

  • Days after posting a nearly $92 million bond for defaming Carroll by denying he met or sexually assaulted her in a department store changing room in 1996, Trump continued to accuse Carroll of lying, the New York Daily News reported.

  • “I just posted a $91 million bond, $91 million on a fake story, totally made-up story,” Trump said at a rally on Saturday in Rome, Ga., “based on false accusations made about me by a woman that I knew nothing about, didn’t know, never heard of, I know nothing about her.”

  • On Monday, during an interview on CNBC, Trump continued to cast doubt on Carroll, calling her “Ms. Bergdorf Goodman” and describing her as “a person I’d never met.”

  • In May a jury found that Trump had not only known Carroll, but had sexually assaulted and later defamed her, and awarded her $5 million in damages.

  • In January, a second jury awarded Carroll $83.3 million, in part due to Trump’s repeated denials and attacks.

  • Kaplan, Carroll’s attorney, warned that Trump’s latest remarks could result in yet another lawsuit.

  • “The statute of limitations for defamation in most jurisdictions is between one and three years. As we said after the last jury verdict, we continue to monitor every statement that Donald Trump makes about our client, E. Jean Carroll,” Kaplan said in a statement.

  • On Friday, Trump posted notice that he would appeal the second jury’s $88.3 million judgment with the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Why it matters: Trump is betting that his appeal will be successful in knocking down the amount a jury has ordered to pay Carroll, but two juries have already ruled against him, finding there was ample evidence to disprove his claims he “never met” her.

New York hush money

Trump asks court to delay start of hush money case until Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity

Key players: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Judge Juan Merchan, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein

  • On Monday, Trump’s lawyers filed a motion with Merchan to delay the March 25 start of his criminal trial on charges he violated New York state tax and campaign finance laws when he made payments to Daniels and McDougal in 2016 to hide extramarital affairs, Reuters reported.

  • The grounds for the delay, they wrote, was to give the Supreme Court time to decide whether presidential immunity protects Trump from being prosecuted.

  • "Without immunity from criminal prosecution based on official acts, the President's political opponents will seek to influence and control his or her decisions via de facto extortion," Trump's attorneys wrote.

  • The problem with that argument, however, was that Trump was not president when he arranged the payments to the two women.

  • Trump has asked the Supreme Court to find that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution in the Jan. 6 election interference case because, he claims, challenging the election results was part of his official duties as president.

  • Last year, however, Hallerstein denied a similar line of argument used by Trump’s lawyers when they unsuccessfully tried to have the hush money case moved from state to federal court.

  • "Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President's official acts," the judge wrote.

Why it matters: Trump is hoping to delay the hush money case as long as he can, and seems to be testing the limits of the protections that presidential immunity might offer him.