Fani Willis romance controversy faces fresh scrutiny in Georgia

The romantic relationship between Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) and a special prosecutor she appointed to oversee former President Trump’s Georgia election interference case will face fresh scrutiny this week during two local government oversight hearings.

Rather than in a courtroom, where many romantic details of Willis’s relationship with Nathan Wade spilled out into public view, their courtship will now be at the center of a state Senate committee hearing Wednesday and before a county ethics board Thursday. 

Meanwhile, Judge Scott McAfee, who oversaw the court proceedings examining Willis and Wade’s relationship and whether it constituted a conflict, is weighing whether to boot Willis from Trump’s case, with the judge signaling he will issue his decision by the end of next week. 

If Willis and her office are disqualified, it could throw Trump’s historic racketeering case into limbo.

McAfee’s looming decision poses a greater threat to Willis’s future overseeing the case than the proceedings set to unfold this week. But the hearings are still poised to keep her once-romantic relationship with Wade in the limelight as Trump and his allies pile on attacks.

Defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who first surfaced the romance between Willis and Wade in court filings, will appear Wednesday before the Georgia state Senate Special Committee on Investigations, which was formed in a 30-19 vote along partisan lines after the romance came to light for the express purpose of looking into the district attorney. Merchant confirmed she was subpoenaed to appear before the committee but declined to comment.

“If proven true, the allegations against District Attorney Willis would bring her and her office into disrepute; undermine public confidence in the fair, impartial, and disinterested administration of justice by prosecutors across our state; and cast significant doubt as to the validity of the charges her office has brought in regard to the 2020 Presidential Election,” read the resolution creating the committee.

Merchant represents defendant Michael Roman, a 2020 Trump campaign operative who is charged alongside Trump in the racketeering case. Roman claimed Willis hired her romantic partner and has since improperly benefited from his work for the district attorney’s office via lavish trips they took together.

Willis and Wade maintain their romantic relationship began after she hired Wade in early 2022.

Merchant led the questioning of Willis, Wade and their associates over three days of fiery hearings before McAfee. Now, the oversight bodies probing the prosecutors’ relationship intend to question her.

The committee held its first meeting last month, days before the first courtroom hearing over the romance, when lawmakers suggested a possible need to amend state laws or take other actions in response to the information.

“It is not within our authority or our scope to disqualify counsel in any ongoing criminal investigations,” Georgia Sen. Bill Cowsert (R), the body’s former majority leader who chairs the committee, said at the meeting.

The committee can subpoena witnesses and compel documents, and once its investigation has concluded, it is expected to author a report detailing its findings and any recommendations. However, the committee cannot directly sanction Willis.

“This is not going to be a partisan process. That we have both parties included in this committee for a reason,” Cowsert said. “And it’s important for our validity that the public understand that this is not any type of political witch hunt, this is a quest for the truth, and we’re going to use the tools available for us.” 

Then, Thursday, Fulton County’s ethics watchdog is expected to take up two complaints against Willis.

The first complaint was filed by Steven Kramer, a Fulton County resident who cited the district attorney’s relationship with Wade and questioned whether she improperly benefited from his hiring. 

“The extra resources and financial costs for the court and the district attorney’s office, both paid for by Fulton County taxpayers like me, are to deal with this improper relationship,” Kramer wrote in his Feb. 14 complaint. 

The second complaint was filed by internet-based talk show host Gregory Mantell. In a Substack post, he claimed Willis has violated “at least six sections and even more subsections” of the Fulton County Ethics Code.  

The Ethics board inquiry has been cheered on by national leaders such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who posted on social media that she’s looking forward to the hearing.  

Back at the Fulton County courthouse, McAfee signaled he will release a decision by the end of next week on whether to disqualify Willis. 

As part of the judge’s decision, he is weighing conflicting claims of when Willis and Wade’s relationship began. Defense attorneys have continued to push to put more evidence in the record they claim bolsters their assertion it began in 2019, prior to Wade’s hiring. 

Trump’s attorneys also want to enter Wade’s cellphone data into evidence, suggesting it indicated he visited the district attorney’s condo at least 35 times prior to his hiring. The district attorney’s office has pushed back on that notion, suggesting the data is unreliable.

Another wrinkle surfaced Monday when David Shafer, the former Georgia Republican Party chair who is also charged in Trump’s election case, proposed hearing testimony from a co-chief deputy district attorney in a neighboring county. Shafer’s attorney claimed the witness would bolster claims that Willis’s romance began before she hired Wade. 

Hours later, Cathy Latham, a retired teacher who is charged for her alleged involvement in an elections office breach in rural Georgia, proposed yet another witness she said could testify with similar information: Manny Arora. 

Arora is an attorney who represents Kenneth Chesebro, who took a plea deal in the case over his involvement in crafting the “fake elector” strategy.

Both lawyers say they were informed of the timeline of the Willis-Wade romance by Terrence Bradley, Wade’s ex-law partner and divorce attorney who was also under the microscope in McAfee’s courtroom. He was billed as Merchant’s star witness but walked back his splashiest claims when testifying under oath.

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