Former President Donald J. Nearly three years after the investigation into Trump and his associates began, Fannie D. Willis faces the biggest test in handling the landmark election interference case.
Ms. Willis, the district attorney for Fulton County, Ga., was accused this week of having an affair with the chief prosecutor she appointed to prosecute Trump, riling Republicans and raising questions about her behavior. and judgment. The attorney, Nathan Wade, has reaped more than $650,000 in legal fees.
While many legal experts suspect the allegations — if true — could derail the case, they could present significant problems for Ms. Willis and create a distraction around the case. The allegations have already created a firestorm on the political right, with Mr. Trump and his allies accused him of violating county and state laws. They have even given some Democrats pause.
“If the allegations are true — if it's a big deal — it's troubling,” Rob Pitts, a Democrat who chairs the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, said in an interview this week. “For it to come at this time, and at this stage of this trial, may raise questions.”
Charges filed without supporting documents or named witnesses, Mr. Court filings came Monday from an attorney for Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign staffer charged in the case along with Trump and 13 others.
Mrs. Willis Mr. The filing suggested that relationship was a factor in choosing Wade, who has never led a major criminal case and mostly served as a suburban defense attorney and municipal judge.
Mr. Mr. Willis from his office. The filing alleges that Wade profited from his earnings — taxpayer-funded — by sometimes going on paid vacations with him.
Mr. The day after Wade began his run for district attorney in 2022, she filed for divorce. Lawyers for his wife, Joyceel, told Mrs Willis this week that the divorce proceedings began on Jan. A subpoena was issued for his appearance on 23rd.
While court documents do not contain any evidence of a relationship between the suitors, they do confirm that the two have been seen around Atlanta in a “personal relationship capacity” and say people close to the two have confirmed their relationship.
Mr. Roman's attorney, Ashley Merchant, is seeking to expunge the records filed in Wade's divorce case.
Amid the turmoil, Ms. Willis' office has not denied the allegations and has made little comment beyond saying it would respond in court filings. For several days now, it has left serious unanswered questions about possible consequences and legal ramifications.
University of Georgia law professor Nathan S. “I'd be surprised if any charges were dismissed,” said Chapman, who teaches ethics at Nathan S. Goal by Team Willis.”
While he's not an expert on Georgia laws against public corruption, he said, “I wouldn't be surprised if the conduct violates some of those laws.”
Mr. Roman's filing alleges Ms. Willis violated Fulton County laws. But the passage on kinship applies to family members; The county's definition does not appear to include romantic partners.
Jessica Corbitt, a spokeswoman for the district, said she was not aware of any investigation or complaint filed with the county commission, but such matters are likely the domain of the county's ethics board. The board's secretary did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Among the charges filed by Roman are Mr. The district administration chairman Mr.
Mr. Trump used the allegations to renew attacks on the Georgia case in a series of social media posts. One of his staunchest supporters in Congress was Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, Republican of Georgia. he asked The state governor and its attorney general on Wednesday Mr. Gov. Brian Kemp has not been generally critical of Ms. Willis's investigation so far.
Ms. Green outlined several state laws that Ms. Willis could potentially violate, including laws on bribery, improper influence of a government official, and conspiracy to defraud the government. It is not immediately clear how some of those laws apply; Bribery law is often aimed at payments given or solicited to public officials.
But Ms. Green and others also pointed out pledge Taken by district attorneys in Georgia, in which they promised to take only “legal damages.” Mr. If Ms. Willis benefited from the money paid to Wade, “she violated her oath of office and a number of Georgia criminal statutes,” Mr. Ms Green said in a letter to Kemp.
Ms. Merchant's motion, Mr. Wade, Ms. Willis and the entire district attorney's office are seeking dismissal from the case. But some of her key arguments may face an uphill battle. Ms. Merchant said Ms. Willis did not receive proper approval from the district when she hired Mr. Wade. But the Fulton County Attorney, Sue Jo, said this week that Mr. Willis, Mr. He said Wade's hiring did not require approval from the county commission.
Ms. Merchant also argued that Mr. Wade was incompetent. Nevertheless, in 2016 Mr. He praised Wade's “strong legal background” on Facebook, supporting him in one of his failed bids to become a Supreme Court justice.
“Nathan has practiced in every area of law that appears before the High Court bench,” he wrote. Another post featured a photo of him posing in a Wade campaign T-shirt.
“Nathan Wade is the most qualified person in that race,” he said Thursday when asked about the positions.
Another challenge for Ms. Willis is the new Georgia Commission, established last year by the state's Republican leaders to oversee local prosecutors. Mrs. Willis strongly opposed its creation.
The commission currently has no authority because of a recent court ruling, but Republican lawmakers are crafting legislation to fix that.
Even before the allegations surfaced this week, a group of conservative lawmakers had indicated They intend to complain to the new commission, which Ms Willis argues has failed to resolve pending cases while spending money “pursuing politically motivated cases”.
Josh McCune, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, said this week that he expects the new allegations to form the basis of a new complaint and speed up lawmakers' efforts to fix problems preventing the new commission from starting its work.
“I doubt a complaint will be filed,” said Mr. McCune said. “I also expect the Legislature to move with greater speed to address these technologies so the commission can get to work.”
On social media this week, a lawyer and former legislator, Mr. McCune, Mrs. Willis and Mr. Trump has called for all criminal proceedings in the case to be stayed while the charges against Wade are investigated.
Clark D., professor of law and ethics at Georgia State University. Cunningham called the new claims “very serious allegations” and the new commission would be a good place to examine them. He noted that the agency's draft rules give it the power to investigate and discipline prosecutors for “prejudicial conduct in the administration of justice that brings the office into disrepute.”
It's unclear whether any of this will affect the timing of Trump's trial. Ms. Willis has sought an Aug. 5 start date, but Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Scott McAfee has yet to set a date. Ms Willis recently predicted that any investigation would not be completed until next year.
His next major step is to file a response to the charges. At that time, Judge McAfee may decide to hold an evidentiary hearing. If there is an investigation, Ms. Merchant can provide witnesses who can help substantiate allegations of an affair. Like all proceedings in the case, such hearing will be telecast live.
A hearing date to unseal Wade's divorce papers is set for Jan. 31 in Cobb County. But some discussion of Roman's filing is likely to come up in a hearing set for Friday in downtown Atlanta.