Trump prosecutor Fani Willis scolds ‘highly offensive’ attorney in fiery testimony: ‘That’s lies’

Fulton County district attorney is leading a sprawling case against the former president and his allies

Alex Woodward
Friday 16 February 2024 14:01 GMT
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Fani Willis accuses prosecution of 'lying' as she takes stand

The Georgia prosecutor leading a sprawling election interference case against Donald Trump has testified in court about allegations of misconduct levelled against her by the former president and his co-defendants – questions that could potentially disqualify them from the case.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis began her testimony in an Atlanta courtroom on Thursday after defence attorneys questioned lead prosecutor Nathan Wade about the timeline of their relationship and the expenses they shared.

The attorneys had already admitted to their relationship but firmly rejected the “meritless” and “salacious” allegations as “bad-faith” attempts to see her kicked off a case that Mr Trump has baselessly labelled a conspiracy against him, according to court filings.

Thursday’s hearing is scrutinising allegations that the former couple financially benefited from Ms Willis hiring Mr Wade to prosecute the former president’s case, which charges Mr Trump and more than a dozen co-defendants as part of a “criminal enterprise” to overturn the state’s election results in 2020.

“I’ve been very anxious to have this conversation with you today,” Ms Willis told defence attorney Ashleigh Merchant. “It’s ridiculous that you lied on Monday and yet here we are. ... I’m actually surprised that the hearing continued. But since it did, here I am.”

Robin Yeartie, a friend of Ms Willis when they were in college in the early 1990s, previously testified that Ms Willis and Mr Wade were in a romantic relationship beginning in 2019. During her testimony, Ms Willis vigorously denied those claims and called an allegation that she slept with Mr Wade after meeting him “extremely offensive”.

“That’s a lie,” she told Ms Merchant, a criminal defence attorney representing Trump co-defendant Mike Roman. “That’s one of your lies,” she said.

She will return to the witness stand on Friday under questioning from her team. Attorneys plan to introduce four to five other witnesses, with another round of questioning expected to take four to five hours.

“I’m not ruling on any of this tomorrow,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said as the day-long hearing came to a close on Thursday evening. “This is something that’s going to be taken under advisement on all aspects.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies at a hearing on 15 February about allegations involving her relationship with another prosecutor.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies at a hearing on 15 February about allegations involving her relationship with another prosecutor. (REUTERS)

Mr Wade’s signed affidavit in the case states that he and Ms Willis “developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship” in 2022, several months after he was hired on the case.

He stated he has no financial interest in the case, that no funds from his hiring have been shared with Ms Willis, and that they have never shared any financial accounts, expenses or housing.

Ms Willis also testified that the couple began dating in March or April of 2022 and ended their romantic relationship in the summer of 2023.

She accused Ms Merchant of repeatedly mischaracterising her testimony and repeating “lies” about her personal life in her questions to Ms Willis and in court filings.

“You’re confused. You think I’m on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020,” she said. “I’m not on trial. No matter how hard you try to put me on trial.”

Ms Willis had initially tried blocking efforts by the former president’s attorneys and other defence lawyers to compel her testimony, but she withdrew her objection on Thursday and told the court that she “ran” down the hall after learning that Mr Wade finished testifying.

“I’m ready to go,” she could be heard saying as she walked into the room.

Her testimony builds on what has become a high-stakes line of inquiry – what Ms Willis and others have cast as an effort to undermine her prosecution and delay and distract from Mr Trump’s proceedings – that could threaten her removal from the case altogether.

If Juge McAfee determines that she can be disqualified, her team would be removed and new prosecutors would be appointed, a process that could take months and further delay a sprawling trial that has been tentatively scheduled to begin in August.

Lines of questioning from attorneys for Mr Trump and his co-defendants veered into deeply personal questions, including her sex life and how she handles cash, with Ms Willis eager to clarify allegations against her, the timeline of her relationship, and how she handled payments for trips and meals between them.

She recounted four trips in 2022 and 2023, including travel to Miami and a cruise to Aruba, a cruise to the Bahamas, a trip to Belize, and a trip to Napa Valley in California. She testified that her shares of those trips – excluding the trip to Belize, which was a gift to Mr Wade for his 50th birthday – were repaid in cash and that those costs were “divided roughly evenly” throughout.

“I want to be clear, because my credibility is being questioned here … I don’t consider our relationship to have become romantic until early 2022,” Ms Willis said.

They ended a physically intimate relationship in 2023, they said. Ms Willis said they had a “tough conversation” last August – before Mr Trump was indicted in Georgia.

“He told me one time: the only thing a woman can do for me is make me a sandwich,” she said. “We would have brutal arguments about the fact that he was my equal … There was tension, always, in our relationship … I don’t need anything from a man. A man is not a plan. A man is a companion.”

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