Trump Team Makes Final Push to Get Fani Willis Tossed

Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images
Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images

Capping off seemingly endless back-and-forth about how Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ dating history does or does not affect her fitness as a prosecutor, defense attorneys for Donald Trump on Friday made a final 11th-hour push to derail Georgia state election interference charges against their clients.

Lawyers for the former president and his various co-defendants claimed Willis’ romantic entanglement with Nathan Wade, the private lawyer she hired to help prosecute the former president on charges of election interference, has created an insurmountable conflict of interest and that she must be disqualified.

“Prosecutors don’t act like this, lawyers don’t act like this,” defense attorney Craig Gillen argued before Judge Scott McAfee. “These people, Your Honor, [engaged in] systematic misconduct. And they need to go.”

Another, defense attorney Harry MacDougald, claimed Willis’ office had become “a global laughingstock” because of the situation, and that her participation in the case has left an “irreparable stain” on it. John Merchant, who is representing Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, told McAfee that if he allowed Willis to remain on the case, “public confidence in the system will be shot.”

Defense Team Floats Salacious Claim at Fani Willis Hearing

However, legal experts, including Norm Eisen, who served as President Obama’s special counsel and special assistant for ethics and government reform, law professor and former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance, and Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, have said the existence of an intimate relationship between the two is “irrelevant,” and has “no connection to assuring the defendants a fair trial.”

On Friday, Senior Assistant District Attorney Adam Abbate echoed that argument in firing back at the claims by the defense, who did not cite case law in court.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that the defendants in this case, their due process rights, have been harmed in absolutely any way,” he said. Abbate told McAfee that defense lawyers have presented arguments that were “misleading” and “inapplicable” to the proceedings at hand, and that “some of them actually support the state’s position.” Cellphone records presented by the defense, purporting to show Wade was secretly seeing Willis late at night, “were not properly peer-reviewed,” and did not establish that Wade’s number was the one in touch with Willis’ number, Abbate argued.

The defense has alleged that Willis improperly received financial benefits from bringing Wade onto her team because he treated her to luxury vacations and meals paid for by his taxpayer-funded salary. Willis’ office says she didn’t do anything wrong, and reimbursed Wade for her share of all expenditures that could possibly have been construed as questionable.

Terrence Bradley, Wade’s former law partner and one-time divorce lawyer, insisted during testimony on Tuesday that he couldn’t recall when the relationship began between the two. But Bradley, who was billed as a star witness for Team Trump, proved nothing on the stand, Abbate said on Friday.

Abbate suggested that Bradley may have lied to defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who relied on information provided by Bradley to file the January motion that first exposed the fact that Willis and Wade had been dating. Bradley also had an axe to grind with Wade, having been pushed out from the law firm where the two worked after accusations of sexual assault. Other testimony from Willis’ former friend Robin Bryant-Yeartie was “vague,” according to Abbate, who argued that Bryant-Yeartie offered “no description or qualification about when it occurred,” or “what she actually saw.”

Willis did not set out to hire her boyfriend in an attempt to seek any sort of personal benefit, according to Abbate, who emphasized on Friday that Willis hired Wade only after two others—including former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes—declined the appointment over financial and security concerns.

It’s ridiculous,” Abbate said. “It’s absurd.”

To sum up the point, when Willis and Wade went to Napa together, they stayed at a Doubletree, Abbate argued Friday. If she really wanted to “live a lifestyle of the rich-and-famous,” Willis would have stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, according to Abbate.

“There’s been absolutely no evidence [that] the district attorney has benefited financially at all, or benefited financially in conjunction with any outcome, whether it be now, or ultimately, as it relates to the prosecution of this case,” Abbate said.

In response to Trump attorney Steve Sadow’s claim that the “appearance of” impropriety is enough to disqualify, Abbate said that “actual conflict is required to be shown” under Georgia state law. He presented a PowerPoint deck containing specific case law showing that there has never been an appellate opinion in the State of Georgia that relied solely on the appearance of impropriety by a prosecutor or district attorney.

The misconduct allegations against Willis emerged last month as her office tries Trump and several others for their attempt to undermine election results in Georgia that led Joe Biden to victory in 2020. It is one of four criminal cases the erstwhile reality star is facing as he mounts another bid for the White House.

Whether or not Willis is disqualified, defense attorneys endeavored to plant a seed in the public’s collective mind about her credibility, and allowed Trump to further delay the proceedings against him. As for the “bias” claimed by lawyers for the Trump team, Abbate argued on Friday that prosecutors are partisan by design.

“[T]he state is always going to appear biased as it relates to getting justice for the victims,” he said.

After the three-hour hearing, McAfee said there are numerous legal and factual issues to consider, and that he hopes to “have an answer for everyone within the next two weeks.”

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