Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Hugo Lowell

Judge unseals divorce case as conflict of interest claims threaten Trump Georgia trial

Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis
The Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, in Atlanta on 24 January 2023. Photograph: John Bazemore/AP

A Georgia judge on Monday unsealed the divorce case involving a special prosecutor at the center of allegations concerning an improper relationship with the Fulton county district attorney who brought the racketeering case against Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

The judge also stayed the deposition of the Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis in the divorce, until the special prosecutor Nathan Wade – whom she hired for the high-profile Trump case – had first testified about his relationship and financial conditions himself.

Trump’s co-defendant and 2020 campaign elections day operations chief, Michael Roman, has put forward a motion seeking to have the district attorney’s office disqualified from bringing the case because the alleged relationship between Willis and Wade was a conflict of interest.

The judge vacated the consent order sealing the divorce proceeding because no court hearing had been held at the time to shield the records. Roman and a coalition of media organizations, including the Guardian, had separately filed to unseal the case.

The allegations made by Roman threaten to undercut one of the most complex and high-profile criminal cases against Trump that could go to trial before the 2024 election. Trump, who won the Iowa caucuses last week with a 30-point margin, is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

Trump and his allies, including Roman, were charged last year with violating the Georgia racketeering statute over their efforts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election in the state, including by advancing fake Trump slates of electors and pressuring state officials to toss vote totals.

The complaint about the relationship inside the district attorney’s office surfaced in January after Roman sought the dismissal of Willis, alleging that she personally profited from hiring Wade because he billed at least $653,000 in fees and used that money to pay for vacations together.

The reasoning from Roman, as it goes, suggests that even though Wade could spend his earnings as he liked, it was a conflict of interest when the money was being used to benefit Willis.

Roman’s filing included no concrete proof that Willis personally benefited from hiring Wade. Roman’s lawyer Ashleigh Merchant, a respected local attorney who once endorsed Wade to be a judge in 2016, said the claims were based on sources and records from Wade’s divorce proceeding.

But in a court filing submitted by Joycelyn Mayfield Wade in the divorce case last week, Wade’s bank records attached as exhibits showed that he had paid for at least two trips to Miami, Florida, and to Napa Valley, California, with Willis as the listed travel companion.

The first trip, dated 4 October 2022, showed Wade paid for flights from Atlanta to Miami for himself and for Willis. Separately, on the same date and without names listed, Wade made two purchases with Royal Caribbean Cruises, for $1,248 and $1,387.

The second trip, dated 25 April 2023, showed Wade paid for flights from Atlanta to San Francisco for himself and for Willis. On 14 May 2023, Wade made two purchases, for $612 and $228, at a Doubletree hotel in Napa Valley.

Willis has not directly addressed the allegations. A spokesperson has said the district attorney’s office would speak through its court filings.

The allegations are scheduled to be addressed next month after the Fulton county superior court judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding in the Trump case, set an evidentiary hearing for 15 February. The date comes two weeks after the judge in the divorce case holds a hearing on whether to unseal.

Wade started divorce proceedings the day after he was hired as a special prosecutor on the Trump case. The divorce turned contentious last year, after Joycelyn Mayfield Wade complained that her husband had failed to disclose his finances, including income from working on the Trump case.

The complaint resulted in Wade being held in contempt by the Cobb county superior court judge and, in January, Willis herself was subpoenaed for information relating to Wade’s work.

The subpoena ordered Willis to sit for a taped deposition on 23 January. At the hearing on Monday, the judge also stayed the subpoena until after Wade himself had been deposed by his wife about his financial situation.

Willis accused Wade’s wife of “conspiring with interested parties in the criminal election interference case to use the civil discovery process to annoy, embarrass and oppress District Attorney Willis” in a motion to quash, and sought a protective order to avoid the deposition.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.