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Georgia judge says Willis relationship ‘could lead’ to disqualification of Trump case

The judge overseeing former President Trump’s criminal case in Georgia set the stage Monday for a high-stakes battle later this week over whether Fulton County Prosecutor Fani Willis (D) should be disqualified for his relationship with a high-ranking prosecutor in the case.

At a Monday hearing, Judge Scott McAfee vowed to hold an evidentiary hearing Thursday, during which he will evaluate accusations by Trump and some of his co-defendants that their relationship constitutes a conflict of interests.

“I think it is possible that the facts alleged by the accused could result in disqualification,” the judge said. “I believe an evidentiary hearing needs to take place to establish the case on these primary allegations.”

With the prospect of testimony from Willis and other prosecutors — and even Willis’ father — the hearing is expected to be a watershed moment in the case. McAfee will settle weeks of spats between the parties, with each side claiming the other continues to make false statements about Willis’ relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

The judge insisted he would keep the hearing “focused,” suggesting he would not hesitate to intervene if the defense attorney sought to “unduly harass or embarrass” prosecutors.

“I think the questions that arise 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 that is only relevant because it is combined with the question of the existence and extent of any personal benefit resulting from that relationship.”

Efforts to seek disqualification of Willis began after Mike Roman, a Trump 2020 campaign operative who is indicted alongside Trump, first highlighted the relationship last month. Trump and other co-defendants later joined the effort.

On Monday, McAfee said he would postpone a decision on whether Roman could subpoena Willis, Wade and other members of the prosecutor’s office to testify until Thursday’s hearing.

The prosecutor’s office hopes to avoid testifying. Willis and Wade have acknowledged a “personal relationship” but insist that relationship poses no professional conflict and that they were just friends when Wade was first hired to investigate Trump.

During Monday’s proceedings, Roman attorney Ashleigh Merchant continued to dispute the claims. Merchant told the judge Monday that Wade’s former law partner, Terrence Bradley, would testify that the personal relationship between Willis and Wade began before he was hired as a special prosecutor in the Trump case.

Merchant also claimed that Wade had previously sworn in his divorce filing that he had no outside relationships during their marriage — a direct contradiction to the affidavit he filed earlier this month acknowledging his relationship with Willis.

“We have two affidavits in two different courts, both under oath, both filed with the court, that say something completely different,” Merchant said, claiming that Wade later changed the affidavit in his court case. divorce to assert his Fifth Amendment right against himself. -incrimination.

Fulton County prosecutors fought back, accusing the defense of making unfounded claims intended to attract negative media attention, saying Merchant’s claims that Willis and Wade were cohabiting were false. No prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office appeared in person at Monday’s hearing — a notable contrast to their usual procedure.

“The defense did not provide new facts. The defense did not bring you the law. The defense was bringing you gossip,” special prosecutor Anna Cross told the judge.

“And the state cannot, and the court must not, tolerate this practice.” »

McAfee, however, on Monday quashed a subpoena regarding Wade’s bank accounts and warned that his experience as a prosecutor would not be relevant to Thursday’s hearing.

Trump and some of his co-defendants have criticized Wade for his lack of experience handling complex criminal cases involving racketeering charges, also pointing out that he received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work.

“In my mind, as long as an attorney has a heartbeat and a bar card,” McAfee said, then the appointment of that attorney is a matter “at the discretion of the prosecutor.”

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