Fani Willis takes stand, faces possible removal from Trump’s Georgia election case

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — A judge heard arguments Thursday over whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the prosecution of former President Donald Trump and others accused of breaking the law to keep him in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election.

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The hearing will determine whether Willis and her office can continue pursuing the case amid allegations that she and the special prosecutor tapped to handle the case had an inappropriate relationship, WSB-TV reported. In a court filing earlier this month, Willis and attorney Nathan Wade acknowledged that they had a personal relationship but denied any wrongdoing.

Wade testified on Thursday before Willis was called to the stand.

Judge dismisses courtroom for the day

Update 5:17 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee decided to dismiss the courtroom for the day and said the hearing would pick up again Friday at 9 a.m. EST.

CNN reported that Willis is expected to be cross-examined next by the district attorney’s office.

— Jessica Goodman, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Willis said relationship started in 2022

Update 4:42 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Willis while on the stand said that her relationship with Wade started during February and April 2022, This was reportedly months after she had hired him in Nov. 2021.

Wade said the couple had started dating in early 2022 while a friend of Willis said the relationship started in 2019.

— Jessica Goodman, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Willis to attorney: ‘You don’t have to yell’

Update 4:27 p.m. EST Feb. 15: “You don’t have to yell at me. I’m able to understand,” Willis said in response to Trump’s attorney, Steve Sadow asking her if her children lived in her house while she lived at a separate residence.

She was asked about where people were living and her staying at the separate residence and she said that it was “a very lonely period of my life”.

“This is a very isolating job,” Willis said. “I turned 50 in 2021 and that was probably one of the worst birthdays I’ve had.”

— Jessica Goodman, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Willis to attorney: ‘I’m not on trial’

Update 3:55 p.m. EST Feb. 15: On the stand, Willis said that she objected to defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant getting records related to her travel with Wade.

“You’ve been intrusive into people’s personal lives,” she said. “You’re confused. You think I’m on trial. 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.”

Merchant is representing Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign staff member accused of trying to use slates of fake electors to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Willis said she had a habit of keeping cash on her

Update 3:40 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Willis said that she got into the habit of taking extra cash out and keeping it on her with encouragement from her father.

She said that her father always told her that a woman should have six months of expenses in their house.

“It’s been my whole life,” she said. She added, “You just put money in. It’s a very good practice. I would advise it for all women.”

She said that in her “best days” she had about $15,000 in cash.

Willis on Robin Yeartie: ‘She betrayed our friendship’

Update 3:35 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Willis acknowledged her longtime acquaintance with Robin Yeartie, who earlier testified that Willis and Wade began dating in 2019, saying in court that they met while in college in the 1990s.

She said that they were not close in school and that they met again by chance years later.

“There’s a saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,’ and I think she betrayed our friendship,” she said.

Willis accuses attorney of dishonesty

Update 3:15 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Willis accused an attorney representing Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign staff member, of lying in court.

“It’s ridiculous to me that you lied on Monday and yet here we still are,” she told attorney Ashleigh Merchant.

The district attorney said that she was pacing in her office when she heard someone yell that Wade’s testimony was over. She walked to the courtroom afterward under the assumption that she would be called next.

“I’ve been very anxious to have this conversation with you today, so I ran to the courtroom,” she said.

Willis takes stand in misconduct hearing

Update 2:55 p.m. EST Feb. 15: The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office took back its objection to having Willis take the stand on Thursday as she faces a misconduct hearing.

Willis took the stand just before 3 p.m. following testimony from Wade, who said that they dated from early 2022 until the summer of 2023.

Testimony from Wade wraps up, attorney attempts to call Willis to the stand

Update 2:50 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Wade finished giving testimony on Thursday after spending hours on the stand answering questions about his relationship with Willis, his work and his divorce.

Attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who is representing former Trump campaign staff member Michael Roman, asked for Willis to take the stand next. Prosecutors objected, highlighting the high bar needed to justify calling opposing counsel to testify.

The judge is hearing arguments over whether to quash the subpoena for Willis.

Wade says he was not dating Willis — or anyone — in 2020

Update 2:40 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Wade said that he was not dating anyone in 2020 as he was battling cancer with added precautions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“In 2020 and a portion of ‘21, I was battling cancer that prevented me from pretty much leaving ... environments that aren’t sterile,” he said. “I just, I had health on my mind.”

See photos from Thursday’s court hearing

Update 2:20 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Wade’s former law partner, a former longtime friend of Willis and Wade himself took the stand Thursday to testify in a hearing aimed at determining whether to remove Willis and Wade from the case.

Wade filed for divorce one day after being hired by Willis by chance, he says

Update 2:15 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Wade filed for divorce from his wife one day after Willis hired him as a special prosecutor by coincidence, the attorney testified on Thursday.

He said that he and his wife agreed to split after she had an affair in 2015, but they agreed to wait until after their youngest child graduated high school. He said his wife was in Texas, where she was taking care of her ailing mother and aging father.

“So, the first opportunity that I had after speaking with my lawyers to take care of that was the date that it was filed and served, because she happened to be here” in Georgia, he said.

He added that he and his wife had reached an agreement years earlier about getting divorced, but that it fell apart after he filed for the separation.

Wade says romantic relationship with Willis ended in September 2023

Update 1:55 p.m. EST Feb. 15: Wade testified Thursday that his romantic relationship with Willis ended in the summer of 2023, though their personal relationship continues.

“We’re very good friends — probably closer than ever because of these attacks,” he said. Later, he added that they have not had sexual relations since their split.

The special prosecutor said that he and Willis’ relationship wasn’t “secret, it was just private.” He said he didn’t tell anyone at work and that he was unaware of Willis telling anyone.

“There’s nothing secret or salacious about having a private life,” he added. “Nothing.”

Wade testifies his relationship with Willis began in 2022

Update 12:20 p.m. EST Feb. 15: On the stand on Thursday, Wade reiterated that his romantic relationship with Willis began in early 2022, after she had appointed him as a special prosecutor.

He said that Willis reimbursed him in cash when he paid for her travel expenses on his business card. Credit card statements show that he paid for two of the district attorney’s flights in recent years: one to San Francisco and another to Miami, CNN reported.

He denied having had an affair with Willis, saying that his marriage was “irretrievably broken” after his wife had an affair in 2015. He added that he and his wife waited until their youngest child had graduated before filing for divorce.

“During the course of my marriage, I had no relationship” with anyone other than his wife, Wade said.

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade takes the stand

Update 11 a.m. EST Feb. 15: The special prosecutor heading Trump’s Georgia election subversion case took the stand Thursday as a judge considers whether to remove him and Willis from the case.

Defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant opened her questioning by talking about her earlier support for and friendship with Wade. She then began questioning him about his ongoing divorce proceedings.

Former coworker says Willis, Wade began dating in 2019

Update 10:55 a.m. EST Feb. 15: A longtime friend and former coworker of Willis’ said that the district attorney and Wade began seeing each other beginning in 2019, contradicting a timeline shared earlier by the pair.

Robin Yeartie testified that she met Willis in college and the two became friends. They later worked together in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.

The pair had a falling out after Yeartie faced possible firing due to her performance in the DA’s office. They last spoke in March 2022, The Hill reported.

Yeartie said that she was sure that Willis and Wade had a romantic relationship in 2020 and 2021, adding that she saw them “hugging, kissing” and sharing “just affection.”

In an earlier court filing, Willis and Wade said that they met in 2019 but did not begin a romantic relationship until 2022.

Original report: Defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant earlier accused Willis and Wade of having a “clandestine personal relationship” that created a conflict of interest. Merchant is representing Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign staff member accused of trying to use slates of fake electors to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Merchant is asking the judge to dismiss the indictment and bar Willis, Wade and their offices from having further involvement in the case, The Associated Press reported.

The judge overseeing the case, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, said earlier this week that Thursday’s hearing will focus on whether Willis benefited financially from hiring Wade, when their romantic relationship began and whether the relationship is ongoing, according to The Washington Post.

“It’s clear that disqualification can occur if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one,” the judge said.

It was not immediately clear what might happen to the case against Trump and his co-defendants if Willis is disqualified. Pointing to the political and legal challenges, CNN reported that another prosecutor might not be willing to take up the case. Court proceedings could also be delayed past when voters go to the polls to pick the next president in November.

Trump has long been the frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Authorities filed charges against the former president, Roman and 17 others accused of racketeering to keep Trump in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election. Four people — bail bondsman Scott Hall and attorneys Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis — have pleaded guilty to charges.

The former president and others charged in the case have denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

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