Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney prosecuting Donald Trump for alleged election interference, has been accused of misconduct, potentially imperiling one of the most sweeping legal cases against the former president for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election results.
Here’s what’s going on and what could happen.
One of Trump’s co-defendants — Mike Roman, who worked for Trump’s 2020 campaign and has done opposition research for Republicans — has accused Willis of hiring a lawyer she was having a romantic relationship with to lead the team she assembled to prosecute Trump. Roman also alleged that Willis benefited financially from prosecuting Trump and took personal trips with him on his dime. He has yet to include evidence to back up the allegations.
Roman is charged with helping set up a scheme to create alternative slates of pro-Trump electors in Georgia, but he’s asked the judge overseeing the case to disqualify Willis’s office and have the charges against him thrown out. Trump and another co-defendant have joined Roman’s motion. In doing so, Trump’s lawyer also accused Willis of making statements outside a courtroom that could influence a future jury.
Roman provided no evidence to back up his claims. But records subsequently released as part of divorce filings between the lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade, and his estranged wife show that Wade paid for plane tickets for himself and Willis on two occasions.
In the filing, Roman alleges that people with knowledge have seen Willis and Wade out and about in Atlanta in a romantic manner, and that they took cruises together.
Neither Willis nor Wade have denied the allegations, with a spokesman saying they will respond in court. Willis lashed out at her critics in a recent speech, during which she accused them of playing “the race card” in attacking her and Wade, who are both Black. She also defended Wade’s credentials without naming him and repeatedly referred to herself as “flawed” and “imperfect.”
Credit card statements revealed in divorce filings between Wade and his estranged wife show Wade purchased airline tickets for himself and Willis for trips to San Francisco and Aruba. We don’t know whether Willis reimbursed Wade for the tickets.
The allegations have raised questions about Wade’s qualifications for the job. Wade didn’t have much prosecutorial experience, and Willis has said she actually looked for higher-profile lawyers to take the job before hiring Wade. He worked in family law and was a municipal judge. Since hiring him to be lead prosecutor in the Trump case more than two years ago, Willis’s office has paid his law firm more than $653,000.
We were expecting to learn more when Wade testified in his divorce proceedings, potentially about his finances and the alleged relationship with Willis. But he settled his divorce on the eve of his expected hearing. Willis and Wade might have to testify at a Feb. 15 hearing over whether to disqualify them from the case and have the charges against Roman dismissed.
If the accusations are true, it’s unclear if Willis or Wade broke any laws or violated any policies. But Willis’s judgment and integrity are now in question, which could influence a future jury, said Robert James, a former district attorney in Georgia.
Willis campaigned for office on her integrity and ethics and told voters she wouldn’t be romantically involved with subordinates.
“I certainly will not be choosing people to date that work under me. Let me just say that,” she said in 2020.
Trump and his allies have seized on all of this to delegitimize the charges against him, both in Georgia and elsewhere. “Cruises, Wineries, Shopping, and so much more — paid for with money they got by persecuting me and other honorable American Patriots!” Trump said on social media.
“It’s a gift to us,” a Trump adviser told The Washington Post.
Trump is accused of heading up a broad scheme to overturn his loss in Georgia, and he’s charged under the state’s anti-racketeering law, which was originally used to take down mob bosses.
The indictment against Trump is extensive, with a lot of evidence, and this case carries with it a high possibility of jail time if Trump is convicted, say legal experts. Four of his co-defendants, three of them former lawyers on his campaign, have pleaded guilty.
Some legal experts worry that the accusations against Willis will distract from the serious charges facing Trump.
What happens now is up to the judge overseeing the entire Trump case. Willis must submit her own response to the allegations by Friday. The judge has scheduled a hearing about this on Feb. 15. That’s when Willis’s accusers may be able to bring forward any evidence they have. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee could remove Willis from the case — or not make any changes and keep the case moving.
If Willis is essentially fired from the case, a state council that oversees prosecutors could appoint someone else. That could take awhile. And a new prosecutor might look at the case with fresh eyes and drop some or all of the charges. All of this will probably delay when Trump’s trial could begin. Right now, there is no trial date, and it’s possible that it won’t start before the November presidential election.
Republicans in the Georgia Senate are also moving to investigate whether Willis improperly benefited from state money. A county official where all this is taking place has suggested he also wants to investigate. And the Georgia Ethics Commission, where Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has filed complaints against Willis and Wade, could start investigating, too.