ATLANTA (AP) — Lawyers for former President Donald Trump said the district attorney in the Georgia election interference prosecution should be removed from the case, claiming she “inappropriately injected race into the case and stoked racial animus” in response to allegations of misconduct against her.
Defense attorneys Steve Sadow and Jennifer Little filed a motion Thursday joining an earlier effort by co-defendant Michael Roman to have Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, special prosecutor Nathan Wade and their offices thrown off the case. Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer for Roman, filed a motion Jan. 8 accusing Willis of having an inappropriate romantic relationship with Wade that resulted in a conflict of interest.
Willis has yet to respond publicly to the allegations of a romantic relationship between her and Wade. But she vigorously defended Wade and his qualifications in a speech during a service honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a historic Black church in Atlanta on Jan. 14. She suggested during that address that the questioning of Wade’s hiring was rooted in racism.
“These assertions by the DA engender a great likelihood of substantial prejudice towards the defendants in the eyes of the public in general, and prospective jurors in Fulton County in particular,” Sadow and Little wrote. “Moreover, the DA’s self-serving comments came with the added, sought after, benefit of garnering racially based sympathy for her self-inflicted quagmire.”
Willis spokesperson Jeff DiSantis declined to comment on the filing. He has repeatedly said Willis and her team will respond to Roman’s motion in a court filing. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has set a Feb. 15 hearing on the motion and gave the district attorney’s office until Feb. 2 to respond to it.
Trump, the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee for president, has seized on the allegations against Willis, a Democrat who’s up for reelection this year, using them to try to cast doubt on the merits of the case.
He and Roman and 17 others were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury in August, accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. Four people have already pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors. Trump and the others have pleaded not guilty.
Merchant did not include any concrete proof of the alleged inappropriate relationship between Willis and Wade. But a filing last week by Wade’s estranged wife in their divorce case includes credit card records that show that Wade bought plane tickets for Willis to travel with him to Miami and San Francisco.
Merchant alleged that Willis has paid Wade more than $650,000 for his work and then improperly personally benefited when Wade paid to take her on lavish vacations. She also questioned Wade’s qualifications for the case, writing that she could find no evidence he’s ever prosecuted a felony or handled a complex racketeering case like the one brought against the former president.
In her speech at the church, Willis noted that she had three outside lawyers working as special prosecutors in the election case — a white man, a white woman and a Black man. She noted that people have only questioned the qualifications of Wade, the Black man.
Trump’s lawyers wrote in their motion that Willis’ comments “constitute a glaring, flagrant, and calculated effort to foment racial bias into this case by publicly denouncing the defendants for somehow daring to question her decision to hire a Black man (without also mentioning that she is alleged to have had a workplace affair with the same man) to be a special prosecutor.”
Willis cited Wade’s 10 years as a municipal court judge and more than 20 years in private practice, but Wade does not have much prosecutorial experience. He worked for the Cobb County solicitor general’s office, which handles misdemeanor cases, for less than a year in the late 1990s, a county spokesperson said. And he was designated a special assistant attorney general in 2010, but it’s not clear he ever handled any cases in that role.
“The DA’s provocative and inflammatory extrajudicial racial comments, made in a widely publicized speech at a historical Black church in Atlanta, and cloaked in repeated references to God, reinforce and amplify the ‘appearance of impropriety’ in her judgment and prosecutorial conduct,” Sadow and Little wrote in their filing.