The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Georgia prosecutors remain silent days after explosive allegations

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has not responded to claims by a Trump co-defendant that she has had a romantic relationship with one of the case’s prosecutors

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade, left, listens as John Floyd speaks on behalf of the prosecution during a motions hearing for former president Donald Trump’s election interference case on Friday. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Washington Post)
5 min

ATLANTA — The Georgia judge overseeing the criminal election interference case against former president Donald Trump and allies said he planned to schedule a hearing next month on a motion seeking to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis amid claims she had an improper personal relationship with a special prosecutor she appointed to the case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said during a Friday hearing that he was first waiting to see a response from Willis to misconduct allegations leveled in a Monday court filing by Mike Roman, one of Trump’s remaining 14 co-defendants in the criminal case and a former high-ranking campaign aide during the 2020 election. So far, there has been none.

Roman has moved to disqualify Willis and her office from the case, claiming Willis has been engaged in a “personal, romantic relationship” with Nathan Wade, whose firm has been paid more than $650,000 by the district attorney’s office since he was tapped as an outside prosecutor on the case in November 2021.

Willis has not publicly commented on the allegations, with a spokesman saying she will respond in a court filing. On Friday, McAfee asked Wade and other prosecutors in attendance, at a scheduled hearing on other matters in the case, if they wanted to respond to Roman’s motion.

As the judge waited for an answer, Wade, the lead prosecutor, remained seated. A few seconds later, Daysha Young, an executive district attorney assigned to the case, rose to respond. “Not at this time, your honor,” Young said.

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

The interaction came during a hearing on motions filed by Trump and other defendants in the case. But it marked the first public appearance by Wade and other members of the prosecution team amid a controversy that threatens to delay or even upend the high-profile racketeering case alleging Trump and his allies illegally conspired to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia.

Unlike other recent hearings in the case, Wade and prosecutors entered and exited from a back hallway into the courtroom on Friday, avoiding reporters. While Wade entered the courtroom with a smile, he avoided interacting with defense lawyers — out of the norm for a lead prosecutor who has been known to greet and shake hands with other lawyers in the highly charged case. He allowed other prosecutors to answer questions and make arguments — even at moments when he would usually do so.

In Monday’s motion, Roman claimed Wade’s hiring was improper and unethical because of what, he claimed, was an ongoing personal relationship between Wade and Willis that predated Wade’s hiring as an outside prosecutor.

The filing claimed Willis had benefited personally from Wade’s income from the case, alleging she had joined him on multiple cruises and other trips unrelated to work that Wade had paid for. Wade and Willis, Roman’s filing claimed, were “profiting significantly from this prosecution at the expense of the taxpayers.”

The filing provided no proof to back up those claims. Ashleigh Merchant, a prominent Cobb County defense attorney who represents Roman, later told The Washington Post that the claims were based on sources that she did not name as well as records she said had been disclosed as part of Wade’s ongoing divorce proceedings, which have turned contentious.

On Monday, hours before Roman’s filing, Willis was subpoenaed to be deposed as a witness in Wade’s divorce case by Wade’s estranged wife, according to a court filing provided to The Post. It was not immediately clear why Wade’s wife was seeking to depose Willis, and an attorney for Joycelyn Mayfield Wade declined to comment on the subpoena.

Wade has not responded to requests for comment. Scott Kimbrough, Wade’s divorce attorney since November, also declined to comment on the pending case when reached by telephone on Friday.

The subject of Roman’s filing arose Friday during discussion of a motion over discovery issues lodged by Steve Sadow, an Atlanta attorney who is leading Trump’s defense in the Georgia case. McAfee asked Sadow to explain a request he had made to the judge in an email earlier this week asking if Trump could delay his decision on whether to join Roman’s motion to disqualify Willis.

“Suffice it to say that they are salacious and scandalous in nature,” Sadow said of Roman’s claims. “I’m leery of moving to adopt motions that make such allegations without having a better understanding or substantiation of the allegations.”

Sadow said he wanted to learn more about the claims and see Willis’s response before deciding if Trump would join Roman’s motion. Craig Gillen, an attorney for former Georgia Republican Party chair David Shafer, another co-defendant, told McAfee that he was conducting his own investigation to “determine whether or not we’re going to adopt that motion or supplement that motion.”

McAfee told the lawyers he’s willing to give some “leeway” to allow all sides to respond, but also warned he wanted to maintain control. Prosecutors, including Wade, offered little visible reaction to the back and forth.

The allegation threatens to disrupt a case in which Willis has shown momentum in recent months.

Four of Trump’s original 19 co-defendants have accepted plea deals and are cooperating in the case, while others, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, have been unsuccessful in their attempts to move the case from state to federal court.

If McAfee finds that Willis and her office should be disqualified from the proceedings, the decision on who takes on the case would be made by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. The council is still looking for an outside prosecutor to handle the case of Burt Jones, a Trump elector in 2020 who is currently serving as Georgia’s lieutenant governor.

A judge disqualified Willis and her office from investigating Jones in 2022 after Willis sponsored a fundraiser for a former colleague who was a Democratic challenger to Jones.

Gardner reported from Washington.

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.