WATCH LIVE: Fannie Willis trial underway over Trump's firing from Georgia case

Atlanta – Arguments are underway Friday for former President Donald Trump and several of his co-defendants. Georgia election interference case Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis and her office should be disqualified over allegations that Willis had an affair with Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade.

The case before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee blocks a series of extraordinary hearings after Michael Roman, a longtime GOP operative who was indicted alongside Trump. was charged in January Willis and Wade had an “improper” romantic relationship, and the district attorney benefited financially from it. Wade and Willis were present for portions of the trial, sitting at the attorneys' table.

Trump and seven others joined Roman's bid to disqualify Willis, Wade and his office from investigating the fraud case against them. They have requested to drop the charges against them.

“If this court allows this type of behavior to continue and allow DAs across the state to engage in these types of activities, the entire public's confidence in the system will be destroyed and the integrity of the system will be undermined.” said John Merchant, a defense attorney representing Roman.

Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis testifies during a hearing on Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta.

Alyssa Poynter/Getty Images

Roman said the relationship between Wade and Willis began before he was appointed special prosecutor in the case against Trump in early November 2021. Both of them filed in court They had a personal relationship but said it started in 2022.

Both Willis and Wade He testified during the evidentiary hearing last month and revealed personal details about their relationship, financial affairs and visits to places such as Napa Valley, Belize and Aruba. During several hours on the witness stand, Willis forcefully defended himself against accusations that he acted improperly and benefited financially from Wade's hiring.

Defense attorneys said Wade paid for hotel rooms, excursions and trips, though the two attorneys said they split expenses related to their trips and that Willis often reimbursed Wade in cash. Prosecutors on Tuesday filed an affidavit from Stan Brady, who worked at the winery in Napa, to prove Willis used the money to cover expenses in general. She and Wade visited last year. Brady insisted Willis paid $400 in cash for two bottles of wine and a tasting.

The district attorney accused Roman's attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, of spreading lies and “ridiculous” rumors.

“You're intruding on people's personal lives,” said Pip. Willis said during his testimony on the 16th. “You're confused. You think I'm under investigation. These guys are under investigation for trying to steal the election in 2020. I'm not under investigation no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.”

Friday's hearing

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides during closing arguments in District Attorney Fannie Willis' disqualification trial March 1, 2024, in Fulton County Court in Atlanta.

ALEX SLITZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Attorneys representing Trump and his co-defendants were given 90 minutes to present arguments why Willis and Wade should be disqualified. Prosecutors will have the same amount of time to present their case.

During his presentation, John Merchant accused him of developing a financial interest in the case in violation of the rules of professional conduct, which “created an unfair appearance by setting up a prosecutorial relationship with her boyfriend, whom she had been dating for two years. To testify.”

While Wade and Willis testified that they split expenses related to their trips, the merchant said Willis received an unaccounted for benefit of about $9,200. He accused the district attorney of “deliberately” crafting a scheme to benefit Wade.

“She put her boyfriend on the spot, paid him, and they reaped the benefits,” the merchant said. “She created the system and then never told anyone about it.”

Wade and Willis' relationship began in 2019 — about two years before he was appointed special prosecutor — and McAfee said if Wade's hiring was improper, it undermines the charges against Trump and his co-defendants.

Steve Sato, who represented Trump, and another defense attorney, Craig Gillen, accused Willis of misconduct during a speech he gave at Big Bethel AME Church in January. Although Willis did not name Wade, he defended his qualifications and suggested racism was behind the claims.

Guillen and Sato said the speech was designed to prejudice potential jurors against the defendants.

“She chose to inject race into the minds of her listeners, and everybody in this community and everybody in this country has reviewed and analyzed that speech that she predicted,” Gillen said.

Citing records obtained by the defense from Wade's cell phone, defense attorney Richard Rice suggested they communicate extensively throughout 2021.

“I don't think teenagers in love interact much,” she said.

Rhys told McAfee, “Both of them have had some difficulty with being honest when it comes to their relationship and these cases.” Wade lied in the documents he submitted in his divorce proceedings. He accused Willis of falsely certifying on ethics forms that he had received no gifts worth more than $100.

“It's beyond imagination that she could somehow forget all these trips, these dinners, these day trips,” Rice said.

Harry McDagald, who represents former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, said Willis and Wade have made the Fulton County district attorney's office “a universal laughingstock because of their behavior.”

Relationship timeline

The timeline surrounding Willis and Wade's relationship emerged as a critical issue in the effort to remove the district attorney and his office from the case. Robin Yeardy, a former longtime friend of Willis, said the relationship with Wade predated his appointment on Nov. 1, 2021. Yeardy testified that he saw the couple being affectionate with each other.

Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade raises his hand during a hearing on Feb. 15, 2024, in Atlanta.

Alyssa Poynter / Reuters

Defense attorneys questioned Wade's former law partner and divorce attorney, Terrance Bradley, about his interactions with Wade and text messages he exchanged with Merchant about the relationship between the two attorneys before Wade filed a motion exposing their private dealings.

After asserting the attorney-client privilege Testimony twice Last month, Bradley was called back at Wednesday's hearing. He said he was “speculating” when he told Merchant in a news release that the relationship between Wade and Willis began before Wade was hired. Bradley repeatedly said he had no direct knowledge of when it started.

Prosecutors tried to discredit both Bradley and Yeardy. They revealed during an evidentiary hearing last month that Bradley had left the company he shared with Wade following allegations of sexual assault. Bradley vehemently denied the allegation and said earlier this week that he hadn't spoken to Wade in more than a year.

Prosecutors for the district attorney's office said Yearty left his job on bad terms after being told he could resign or be fired. Willis testified last month that she hadn't spoken to Yeardy in more than a year and said she was “betraying” their friendship.

It's unclear when McAfee will decide whether to remove Willis and his office from the Trump case, but the controversy over his romance with Wade cast a shadow over the trial and derailed the case for weeks. Trump and his allies are facing charges related to efforts to alter the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Many The original co-defendants want was taken request contracts, The remaining defendants have all He pleaded not guilty.

During Friday's hearing, there were lingering disputes over the evidence that both sides sought to plead. Defense attorneys want McAfee to admit Wade's cellphone data into evidence, saying he was in the vicinity of a condo Willis rented from Yeardy in Hapeville, south of Atlanta, at least three dozen times in 2021. In the months leading up to his appointment as special prosecutor, he was shown on the phone late at night and early in the morning near Willis' home.

Prosecutors also said Brady, who worked at the Napa winery that Wade and Willis visited, will testify Friday if the court refuses to accept his statement.

At the start of the trial, McAfee said he was ready to hear the legal argument already presented by prosecutors and defense attorneys, and that he could make a decision without Brady's cell phone records and testimony. The judge did not rule out further proceedings to admit additional information.

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