The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Top Fani Willis ally calls for lead prosecutor Nathan Wade to step aside

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference on Aug. 14. (John Bazemore/AP)
3 min

A key ally of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) said Saturday that the lead prosecutor of the election interference case against former president Donald Trump should step aside amid allegations that Willis hired him while the two were in a personal relationship.

Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House of Representatives’ first impeachment of Trump, told reporters Saturday that there is no legal basis to disqualify Nathan Wade, an Atlanta-area lawyer whom Willis hired on contract as a special prosecutor to lead the case. But the controversy is not going away and threatens to delay the case against the former president, which must be avoided, Eisen said.

He said Willis should not step aside because of the importance of the case and because the voters of Fulton County elected her to the job.

“There is an overwhelming amount of evidence justifying the decision to prosecute Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators, including Mr. Roman,” Eisen said, referring to co-defendant Mike Roman, who included the sensational allegations in a filing two weeks ago seeking to disqualify both Wade and Willis from the case. “The evidence is strong. The case is powerful. It’s very likely to lead to conviction. And we mustn’t lose time on the calendar given the paramount public interest in bringing that strong case to a speedy conclusion.”

Eisen said that if Wade were to ask his ethics advice, he would say: “No matter the law, discretion is the better course of valor.”

Eisen’s remarks represent one of the first instances of a Willis ally acknowledging the potential damage that the allegations have brought to her and the case. Although he was quick to note that many facts remain unknown — including proof that she accepted airline tickets and other gifts from Wade — he said it seems clear that the two have had a personal relationship, and that was “not wise.”

Subscribe to The Trump Trials, our weekly email newsletter on Donald Trump's four criminal cases

Eisen said a relationship between two prosecutors does not pose a conflict of interest and does not trigger disqualification proceedings under Georgia law. He made clear, however, that the alleged behavior could violate Fulton County ethics policies. On Friday, Fulton County commissioner Bob Ellis sent Willis a letter indicating that he planned to investigate whether Willis’s hiring of Wade and alleged acceptance of gifts from him subsequently amounted to a misuse of county funds. A spokesman for the district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ellis’s letter came in the wake of fresh evidence that Wade paid for at least two airline trips with Willis while the investigation was underway, according to bank statements filed in his divorce case Friday. The statements were part of a filing by lawyers for Wade’s estranged wife, Joycelyn Mayfield Wade, in an effort to compel Willis to testify in the divorce proceeding, which the district attorney sought to avoid in a separate filing on Thursday. It is unknown if Willis repaid Wade for the expenditures.

Wade purchased tickets for himself and Willis on two occasions, according to the statements — a trip to Miami purchased in October 2022 on American Airlines that was later changed to a trip to Aruba, and a second trip purchased in April 2023 to San Francisco on Delta Air Lines.

Roman, who is charged alongside Trump in the Georgia case, has argued that Willis improperly benefited from hiring Wade as a special prosecutor by receiving free travel from him. Wade, who is an attorney in private practice, has earned more than $650,000 from Willis’s office for his work.

More on the Trump Georgia case

The latest: Four of Trump’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty in the Georgia election case. Trump previously entered a plea of not guilty. The Washington Post published details of recorded statements given to prosecutors by the co-defendants who accepted plea deals in the case, offering previously undisclosed information about the effort by Trump and his allies to reverse his defeat.

The charges: Trump was charged with 13 counts, including violating the state’s racketeering act. Read the full text of the Georgia indictment. Here’s a breakdown of the charges against Trump and a list of everyone else who was charged in the Georgia case. Trump now faces 91 total charges in four criminal cases.

The case: Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) has been investigating whether Trump and his associates broke the law when they sought to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. Here’s what happens next in the Georgia case.

Historic mug shot: Trump surrendered at the Fulton County Jail on charges that he illegally conspired to overturn his 2020 election loss. Authorities released his booking record — including his height and weight — and mug shot.