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Trump prosecutor Fani Willis accuses defense of ‘lies’ about misconduct

In World
February 16, 2024

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) –Fani Willis, the prosecutor overseeing the election interference case against Donald Trump in Georgia, on Thursday pushed back on claims by the former U.S. president’s lawyers that her romance with a colleague presented a financial conflict of interest.

Willis repeatedly accused a lawyer for Michael Roman, a Trump co-defendant who initially raised the allegations, of lying in her statements to the court by implying that Willis had lived with the colleague.

“You’re confused. … You think I’m on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020,” the Fulton County district attorney told the lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant.

Willis described the assertion in court papers the two had lived together as “another one of your lies.”

The district attorney took the stand after fellow prosecutor and former romantic partner Nathan Wade in testimony denied allegations of financial impropriety. Lawyers for Willis’ office initially opposed her testifying, but dropped their opposition when the prosecutor made a surprise entrance in the courtroom.

Trump and some of his co-defendants assert that Willis should be disqualified from the prosecution due to her relationship with Wade, who they say paid for trips the two took together while Wade was being paid by Willis’ office.

The Georgia case is one of four criminal prosecutions that Trump is facing as he closes in on securing the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election. Trump himself was in New York on Thursday where a judge scheduled a trial on charges related to hush-money payments to a porn star to start on March 25.

Wade on Thursday denied accusations that Willis financially benefited from the relationship, giving her an incentive to prolong the prosecution.

Wade testified that he booked travel with Willis to California, Belize and Aruba as well as a Caribbean cruse but said Willis either reimbursed him in cash or covered other expenses.

“She’s going to insist that she carries her own weight,” Wade said of Willis.

Defense lawyers grilled Wade on the trips, suggesting Willis would have had to pay thousands of dollars in cash to cover her share.

Wade spoke after a former friend and employee of Willis, Robin Yeartie, contradicted the timeline of the relationship Willis and Wade have presented to the court.

Yeartie testified that Willis and Wade began dating shortly after they met in 2019 and before Wade was contracted to lead the Trump case. Wade later testified that the relationship began early in 2022 while he was already working on the election probe.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee set the hearing, which is scheduled to continue on Friday, to determine whether Willis’ office should be disqualified from prosecuting the election case. That would cast doubt on the future of the prosecution.

Willis’ office has blasted the disqualification effort as a publicity stunt based on “fantastical theories and rank speculation.”

The allegations have roiled Willis’ historic prosecution of Trump and 14 allies who have pleaded not guilty to charges of forming a criminal conspiracy to overturn Trump’s 2020 defeat in Georgia.

Trump has long presented the Georgia prosecution, and others he faces, as politically motivated attempts to prevent him from returning to power. He has highlighted the claims against Willis as evidence of perceived misconduct by those pursing him.

Trump signed onto the disqualification effort, accusing Willis of improperly discussing race during a speech in which she appeared to reference the allegations. Willis, who along with Wade is Black, has said her remarks did not violate any ethical rules.

Trump’s lawyers have been working to delay the various prosecutions he faces. Were he to win the November election, he could order a halt to two federal prosecutions — or possibly pardon himself of any federal convictions — as well as argue that as president he should not face state prosecutions like the Georgia case.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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