A Georgia judge ruled Monday that he will hold at least two days of potentially explosive televised hearings later this week to determine whether to disqualify Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis from the election fraud case against former President Donald Trump because of his affair with the special prosecutor. she hired to supervise him.
But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee also warned attorneys seeking to have Willis and Nathan Wade dismissed — and to dismiss the case in its entirety — that he would not tolerate attempts to smear their reputation through unproven allegations.
“If there is anything that refers to…harassment or undue embarrassment, I will not feel embarrassed to intervene, even without the lawyer’s objection, to move things forward and stay focused on the issues at hand,” he added. McAfee said Monday during a nearly two-hour emergency hearing.
Although he stressed that he had yet to see any evidence that the allegations were true, McAfee’s decision was a brutal setback for Willis and Wade who, through their lawyers, had fought hard aggressively to have the hearing canceled and to avoid having to testify.
More:Fani Willis admits to having a relationship with the prosecutor. What does this mean for the Trump case?
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Fani Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade admitted to having ‘a personal relationship’
McAfee held an emergency hearing to allow lawyers for Wade, Willis and other potential witnesses to try to quash subpoenas ordering their clients to testify at the evidentiary hearing, scheduled for Thursday.
Wade and Willis in particular have already argued that they did nothing wrong and that the high-profile prosecutions of Trump and 14 co-defendants should be allowed to proceed.
Both admitted in a recent court filing that they were engaged in a “personal relationship” or romantic affair, but they said it began after Willis hired a little-known private attorney to join the DA’s office in order to to lead the high-profile case. in November 2021.
More:Why Nathan Wade, criticized for his alleged affair with Fani Willis, is facing new scrutiny
The “disqualification” option
Since Willis and Wade have both admitted to their relationship, McAfee said, what “remains to be proven” is whether Willis derived any financial benefit from it, as Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign official also accused in the alleged effort. to illegally overturn Trump’s 2020 Georgia loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
“Therefore, because I believe it is possible that the facts alleged by the defendant could result in disqualification, I believe an evidentiary hearing should be held to establish the case on these primary allegations,” McAfee said.
McAfee suggested that Willis and Wade would likely testify at the hearing, and that all the procedural wrangling and attempts to introduce — and refute — allegations could extend the hearing into Friday and possibly longer.
More:Georgia DA Fani Willis breaks silence on Donald Trump case prosecutor
Will the court hear witnesses about the start of the case?
One of the key questions to be decided at trial is whether Willis benefited financially from her relationship with Wade.
Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, claimed Wade used part of the more than $650,000 he received as special prosecutor to take Willis on vacations to California wine country, Florida and on cruises In the Caribbean. More recently, Merchant alleged that the affair began before Willis hired Wade – and thus created a conflict of interest that irrevocably tainted the affair.
On Monday, Fulton County Prosecutor Anna Cross told the judge that Merchant was either making it up or mistaken.
“I will be shocked if Miss Merchant is able to support that statement. Shocked,” Cross said. “I don’t believe that’s true.”
‘Shocked’ if allegations are true
Cross told the judge that many of the other allegations leveled by Roman and lawyers for other defendants, including Trump himself, in a series of recent filings are false. She described attempts by defense attorneys to subpoena and cross-examine up to nine prosecutors, security officials and others involved in the Trump case, or close to Wade or Willis, who essentially make up a fishing expedition based on “wild speculation” and third-hand information. hearsay.
Cross also reiterated that Wade and Willis shared the costs of their trips together and did not use taxpayer money paid to Wade and his law firm as compensation for the Trump case for the vacation. And she revealed that the DA’s office wanted Willis’ father to testify remotely from California on Thursday to refute certain allegations, including that Willis and Wade were living together at a key point in their relationship.
Merchant countered that the witnesses she subpoenaed had information “relevant” to the allegations and that Wade had been living with Willis in a county-funded safe house where she was living because of threats. She also said a former associate of Wade’s was willing to testify that their affair predated Wade’s hiring by Willis.
McAfee said he would decide many of those issues on Thursday, including who could testify, and including whether and when the prosecutor himself could take the stand.
The Washington Post reported Monday evening that Trump himself may attend the hearing, citing two people with knowledge of Trump’s intentions. During Monday’s hearing, Trump’s lawyer, Steve Sadow, requested a private, or “ex parte,” conversation with the judge on an unspecified issue. Afterward, Sadow did not comment on the Post article, only telling USA TODAY that it was “speculation.”
“Don’t get upset yet,” he added.
A prosecutor’s dirty laundry
If the defense wins its case and is allowed to cross-examine witnesses, Thursday’s hearing will likely turn into a live television spectacle, including a public and potentially detailed broadcast of the details of Willis’ relationship with Wade, who is married but in the process of divorcing.
McAfee appears to suggest he is willing to hear at least some of these allegations before deciding whether to disqualify Willis, Wade or the entire DA’s office, as Roman has requested.
“So just to emphasize, I think the questions here are whether a relationship existed, whether that relationship was romantic in nature or not, when it formed and whether it continues,” McAfee said. “And this is only relevant because it is combined with the question of the existence and extent of any personal benefit resulting from their relationship.”
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