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April 13, 2024

Fani Willis returns to the stand after sparring with lawyers over misconduct allegations in the Trump election case

Fani Willis returns to the stand after sparring with lawyers over misconduct allegations in the Trump election case

A misconduct hearing over whether to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump concluded Friday with no decision by the judge.

During two days of contentious testimony, including a bombshell appearance by Willis on Thursday, lawyers for the defendants sought to implicate the district attorney and special prosecutor Nathan Wade with lying under oath about the timeline of their relationship.

That effort ran aground on Friday as a former law partner of Wade, who represented him in his divorce for a short time, asserted attorney-client privilege over his testimony, failing to counter the claims Willis and Wade made in an earlier affidavit. Allegations that Willis had an improper relationship with Wade could derail the Georgia election interference case against Trump if she is removed from the case.

Bradley has knowledge that would contradict claims from Willis and Wade that their relationship did not begin until after Wade’s start as special prosecutor, according to a filing by the defense. But Bradley said his working relationship with Wade began in 2018, and, restricted by attorney-client privilege, he could not reveal anything he saw or learned. Still, he could not recall ever billing Wade, he said.

Bradley also claimed privilege over claims that a sexual assault allegation had been made against him and that he left his partnership with Wade following this, as lawyers for the district attorney sought to undermine his credibility. His use of privilege prompted new questions from Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the case, over whether Bradley had interpreted the use of privilege correctly.

McAfee said he planned to schedule an additional hearing, with opportunities for both sides to file additional legal briefs.

Earlier in the day, Willis’s father defended what the district attorney said was a practice of keeping large sums of cash at home, a claim that goes to the center of the dispute over who paid for trips Willis took with the special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

“I don’t want to be racist … but it’s a Black thing,” John Floyd III, retired attorney, said in testimony Friday. “Most Black folks, they hide cash. They keep cash.”

And he testified that Willis had a boyfriend when he lived with her in 2019, whom he would see often. Floyd said he had not met or heard of Wade until last year.

Willis’ father also described “nightmare threats” against his daughter’s safety after she took office, a circumstance that an earlier witness had said led her to move to a condo being rented by a former friend.

“They said they would blow up the house. They were going to kill her. They were going to kill me. They were going to kill my grandchildren,” he said, describing one situation where he scrubbed racist and sexist slurs from her home. “I mean, on and on and on. And it just, it became — and I was concerned for her safety.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing on the Georgia election interference case, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta. Alyssa Pointer / Pool via AP

He said he didn’t want to know where Willis lived after leaving her home, and never visited. Willis said Thursday that the attacks against her grew “so extreme” that she could no longer live at her house.

The hearing has turned into a dispute over when Willis and Wade began dating and whether the relationship predated her selecting him to serve as special prosecutor in the case.

Willis’s friend has described “hugging, kissing, just affection” as early as November 2021 between the district attorney and Wade, contradicting the former couple.

Willis was not called to testify again on Friday after a lawyer for the district attorney’s office said the state had no further questions for her.

Willis’s office is seeking to quash a push for her airline records, which an attorney for one of Trump’s co-defendants has said may reflect previously undisclosed trips by Willis and Wade amid claims that Willis personally benefited from their relationship. The attorneys face misconduct allegations that could lead to Willis’ removal from the case.

Willis dropped her bid to avoid testifying in a surprise turn Thursday, taking the stand after a former friend disputed the timeline of her relationship with Wade. Willis acknowledged this month that she had a personal relationship with Wade but denied that it was improper. 

“You’re confused; you think I’m on trial,” Willis said Thursday during one of several contentious back-and-forth exchanges with attorneys for Trump and his co-defendants. “These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.”

Robin Yeartie, who first met Willis in college and worked in the district attorney’s office until 2022, claimed that Wade and Willis may have been romantically involved as early as November 2021, which would contradict an affidavit they signed earlier. But both prosecutors repeatedly insisted during testimony Thursday that their relationship began in “early 2022” and ended last year. Wade testified that Willis reimbursed him in cash for trips that appear on his bank records, which Trump and his co-defendants have sought to portray as proof that she benefited financially from their relationship.

Willis’ removal would be a major upheaval in the sprawling racketeering case against Trump, with the delay it takes to find a new prosecutorial team making it increasingly unlikely that a trial would take place before the November presidential election. 

After Wade’s testimony had ended, “I ran to the court,” Willis said. Her appearance launched a dramatic turn in the day. 

“I was pacing in my office, and I heard someone yell that his testimony is done … so it only made sense to me that I would be your next witness,” she said. 

Willis gave hours of testimony in the hearing Thursday, at which she discussed repaying Wade thousands of dollars in cash for trips they took together and answered in detail questions about the timeline of their relationship. 

Willis charged Trump and 18 co-defendants in August with conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Four defendants have pleaded guilty, while Trump, who faces 13 counts, has pleaded not guilty.

Katherine Doyle

Katherine Doyle is a White House reporter for NBC News.

Charlie Gile


Blayne Alexander



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