Trump Georgia case: Special prosecutor resigns; DA Fani Willis can stay on case

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Nathan Wade resigned Friday from his position as special prosecutor in the election subversion case against former President Donald Trump in Georgia after a judge ruled that his exit was the only way the case could proceed with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

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The district attorney’s office confirmed Wade’s resignation to WSB-TV hours after Judge Scott McAfee issued his decision.

Wade was serving a special prosecutor over the case against Trump and 18 others accused of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Read: Willis’ acceptance of Wade’s resignation

Update 3:40 p.m. EDT March 15: Willis accepted Wade’s resignation on Friday, calling him “an outstanding advocate” and sharing her “sincere gratitude on behalf of the citizens of Fulton County Georgia,” according to a letter obtained by WSB.

Willis praised Wade for “the professionalism and dignity you have shown over the last 865 days, as you have endured threats against you and your family, as well as unjustified attacks in the media and in court on your reputation as a lawyer.”

“I will always remember — and will remind everyone — that you were brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation and prosecution of the allegations that the defendants in this case engaged in a conspiracy to overturn Georgia’s 2020 Presidential Election,” she wrote. “Others who were considered were understandably concerned for the safety of themselves and their families that would arise from their acceptance of your role. You were the one who had the courage to accept the role, even though you did not seek it.”

Read the resignation letter from Wade

Update 3:35 p.m. EDT March 15: Wade offered his resignation on Friday, effective immediately, according to a letter obtained by WSB.

“Although the court found that ‘the Defendants failed to meet their burden of proving that the District Attorney acquired an actual conflict of interest,’ I am offering my resignation in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public, and to move this case forward as quickly as possible,” he wrote.

“I am proud of the work our team has accomplished in investigating, indicting, and litigating this case. Seeking justice for the people of Georgia and the United States, and being part of the effort to ensure that the rule of law and democracy are preserved, has been the honor of a lifetime.”

Attorneys for Trump and co-defendants react to judge’s order

Update 3:25 p.m. EDT March 15: Attorneys for Trump, former Trump campaign staff member Michael Roman and attorney Robert Cheeley issued statements to WSB following McAfee’s ruling on Friday.

Trump attorney Steve Sadow said that the case should have never been brought.

“While respecting the Court’s decision, we believe that the Court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade, including the financial benefits, testifying untruthfully about when their personal relationship began, as well as Willis’ extrajudicial MLK ‘church speech,’ where she played the race card and falsely accused the defendants and their counsel of racism,” he said. “We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place.”

Ashleigh Merchant, who was the first attorney to allege misconduct, said that the ruling was “vindication.”

“While we believe the court should have disqualified Willis’ office entirely, this opinion is a vindication that everything put forth by the defense was true, accurate and relevant to the issues surrounding our client’s right to a fair trial,” she said. “The judge clearly agreed with the defense that the actions of Willis are a result of her poor judgment and that there is a risk to the future of this case if she doesn’t quickly work to cure her conflict.

“While we do not agree that the courts suggested cure is adequate in response to the egregious conduct by the district attorney, we look forward to the district attorney’s response to the demands by the court. We will continue to fight for our client.”

Attorney Chris Anulewicz, who represents Cheeley, said the court “correctly found that an appearance of impropriety and a pall exists over this case requiring the recusal of either the District Attorney or Mr. Wade.”

“We believe the finding of impropriety requires the disqualification of the entire prosecution team and are assessing next steps,” Anulewicz added.

Wade resigns from prosecution team

Update 3:15 p.m. EDT March 15: Wade resigned on Friday after McAfee ruled that he would have to leave in order to allow Willis to continue prosecuting the case, WSB reported. Alternatively, McAfee said that Willis and her team could step aside and have the case reassigned.

Original report: A Georgia judge on Friday ruled that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can stay on the case against former President Donald Trump if the special prosecutor steps aside.

The decision came after Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade were accused of having an inappropriate romantic relationship that began before she hired him to join the prosecution team.

In an order obtained by WSB-TV, Judge Scott McAfee wrote, “The prosecution of this case cannot proceed until the State selects one of two options.

“The District Attorney may choose to step aside, along with the whole of her office, and refer the prosecution to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council for reassignment. ... Alternatively, (Special Assistant District Attorney) Wade can withdraw, allowing the District Attorney, the Defendants, and the public to move forward without his presence or remuneration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case.”

He indicated that Willis could still face consequences from Georgia lawmakers or the state bar for her relationship with Wade and the perceived conflict of interest that arose from it.

“This finding is by no means an indication that the Court condones this tremendous lapse in judgment or the unprofessional manner of the District Attorney’s testimony during the evidentiary hearing,” he wrote. “Rather, it is the undersigned’s opinion that Georgia law does not permit the finding of an actual conflict for simply making bad choices – even repeatedly - and it is the trial court’s duty to confine itself to the relevant issues and applicable law properly brought before it.”

The decision comes after McAfee heard testimony last month from Willis, special prosecutor Nathan Wade and other witnesses about their relationship before and after a grand jury indicted Trump and 18 others on charges that they conspired to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.

Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney representing former Trump campaign staff member Michael Roman, accused Willis and Wade of beginning a romantic relationship before she hired him to serve as special prosecutor. She said the relationship created a conflict of interest and that Willis got financial benefit from the relationship.

In his ruling Friday, McAfee said that Merchant and the attorneys of eight other defendants who joined in the effort to remove Willis “failed to meet their burden of proving that the District Attorney acquired an actual conflict of interest in this case through her personal relationship and recurring travels with her lead prosecutor.”

He added that the record “now highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team” which can only be remedied with the removal of Wade or of Willis and her team.

“As the case moves forward, reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit to the District Attorney, or even whether the romantic relationship has resumed,” McAfee wrote.

“Put differently, an outsider could reasonably think that the District Attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences. As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist.”

Last month, Wade testified that he used his business card to cover Willis’ travel expenses during their relationship, but said that she paid him back in cash. Documentation showed that in total, Wade covered between $12,000 and $15,000 of Willis’ expenses, McAfee said.

Willis and Wade testified that she reimbursed him for his payments in cash or, alternatively, covered comparable expenses herself.

“Such a reimbursement practice may be unusual and the lack of any documentary corroboration understandably concerning,” McAfee wrote Friday in his order. “Yet the testimony withstood direct contradiction, was corroborated by other evidence ... and was not so incredible as to be inherently unbelievable.”

He acknowledged that under the circumstances, it was impossible to determine whether expenses had been split evenly. However, he found that attorneys opposing Willis failed to show that expenses were not divided appropriately. Further, he found that “financial gain flowing from her relationship with Wade was not a motivating factor on the part of the District Attorney to indict and prosecute this case.”

Both Wade and Willis denied allegations that their relationship began before Wade became special prosecutor, saying they dated from early 2022 until the summer of 2023.

Robin Yearti, a former friend of Willis’ who had a falling out with her while Yeartie was working in the district attorney’s office, testified that the pair began seeing each other in 2019. Wade said that he was not dating Willis or anyone around that time because he was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and health precautions needed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The allegations against the prosecutors do not change the nature of the charges against Trump or his co-defendants, although they created a messy diversion in the case.

Last year, a grand jury indicted Trump and 18 others on charges that they racketeered to keep him in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

Four people — bail bondsman Scott Hall and attorneys Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis — have pleaded guilty to charges. The remaining defendants, including Trump, have denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

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