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Judge sets hearing for misconduct claims against prosecutor leading Ga. Trump case

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears for a hearing in the 2020 Georgia election interference case on Nov. 21, 2023, in Atlanta.
Dennis Byron
Pool/Getty Images
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears for a hearing in the 2020 Georgia election interference case on Nov. 21, 2023, in Atlanta.

Updated January 18, 2024 at 5:33 PM ET

ATLANTA — Extraordinary but so far unsubstantiated allegations that the Georgia prosecutor overseeing a criminal case against former President Donald Trump and others violated federal law will get their day in court.

A Thursday order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee sets a Feb. 15 hearing for a motion filed by former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, alleging Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had an improper relationship with the case's lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade.

Roman, Trump and 17 others have been charged by the DA's office for various efforts to subvert Georgia's 2020 election results. Roman, Trump and most of the other defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Roman's attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, filed a motion Jan. 8 seeking to dismiss the charges against him and disqualify Willis and the DA's office from any further involvement with the case. The motion makes the extraordinary claim that Willis and Wade violated the same racketeering act used to charge Roman and the other defendants in the election interference case.

The filing claims that Willis is in a romantic relationship with Wade, and is receiving financial benefits from his employment and the investigation of Trump and his allies, but does not include corroborating evidence.

Wade, who has been paid more than $600,000 since 2021 for his work on the sweeping racketeering indictment, filed for divorce shortly after joining the team in 2021. Roman's 127-page filing claims Wade's divorce documents, which are currently under seal, could provide more evidence about the alleged relationship.

Willis and her office have yet to file a response to the motion in Fulton County, The judge's order gives the DA's office until Feb. 2 to file a response.

Willis did have a response in a separate case involving Wade on Thursday, though — Willis was subpoenaed to give a deposition in his divorce case. Responding to that subpoena on Thursday, the DA accuses Wade's estranged wife of conspiring with people involved with the election interference case to attack Willis' character and undermine the prosecution.

Willis goes on to say Wade's marriage was "irretrievably broken" and that her deposition was not needed in the unrelated matter. Willis accused Wade's wife of having an affair and noted that a request to unseal the divorce docket, her subpoena and the motion making the allegations of impropriety all happened on the same day, Jan. 8.

On Sunday, Willis alluded to the claims while speaking at Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta without mentioning Wade by name, calling him a "superstar" and "great friend."

Later that day, Trump attacked Willis again at a rally in Indianola, Iowa, saying that the case against him should be dropped. Likewise, Trump allies have used the allegations to continue a longstanding effort to discredit Willis and the charges stemming from Trump's pressure campaign to undo his 2020 election defeat.

In court, however, Trump's legal team has shown more restraint around the claims. During a hearing last Trump attorney Steve Sadow declined to sign on to the motion against Willis, calling the filing "salacious and scandalous in nature" and opting to wait until the DA responded before making a decision.

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Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.