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News / Nation & World

Fani Willis’ father says he didn’t know about Willis’ relationship with prosecutor until recently

By KATE BRUMBACK and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, Associated Press
Published: February 16, 2024, 10:52am

ATLANTA — Georgia prosecutors sought to knock down misconduct allegations against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Friday, calling her father to the witness stand to testify about his knowledge of her romantic relationship with the special prosecutor she hired to lead Donald Trump’s case.

On the second day of an extraordinary hearing that could result in Willis and her office being removed from the case against the former president, Willis’ father testified that he had not met special prosecutor Nathan Wade Wade until last year and didn’t find out until weeks ago that they had been in a relationship. Defense attorneys have been trying to show that the romantic relationship existed before Willis appointed Wade.

Prosecutors also sought to bolster Willis’ testimony that Wade was not the district attorney’s first choice to lead the case against Trump. Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes testified that Willis approached him in 2021 about serving as special prosecutor, but that he turned it down in part because he had “mouths to feed” at his law practice and because he was concerned about potential threats of violence that could come with the job.

Their testimony came after prosecutors opted not to put Willis back on the witness stand Friday, avoiding the spectacle of more deeply personal testimony from the top prosecutor as she fights a defense effort to derail the high-stakes case.

Defense attorney allegations of an improper relationship between Willis and Wade have embroiled the case in controversy, thrusting the love lives of the prosecutors onto center stage in place of the allegations charging Trump with trying to overturn his presidential election loss. The hearing has forced Willis and Wade to answer uncomfortable questions about their private lives, and provided an opening for Trump and his Republican allies to try to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the case as he vies to reclaim the White House in November.

During fiery and sometimes combative testimony on Thursday, Willis was grilled by lawyers over the relationship defense attorneys allege presents a conflict of interest that should force Willis and her office off the case. Willis and Wade have both acknowledged they were in a relationship, but say their personal lives have no bearing on the case. Willis forcefully pushed back against claims of impropriety, at times getting visibly upset lawyers questioned her about everything from her finances to trips she has taken with Wade.

“Do you think I’m on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis told defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant.

Trump immediately jumped on the allegations against Willis in hopes of discrediting the entire case, part of a yearslong pattern of deflecting attention away from his own conduct by highlighting the personal lives and lapses in judgment — both perceived and real — of the officials investigating him. His use of the word “lover” to refer to Wade echoed his attacks years earlier on two FBI officials who had an extramarital relationship and exchanged derogatory text messages about him during the Russia investigation.

Willis and Wade’s relationship was first revealed by Merchant, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, a former campaign staffer and onetime White House aide. Merchant has alleged that Willis personally profited from the case, paying Wade more than $650,000 for his work and then benefiting when Wade used his earnings to pay for vacations the pair took together.

Wade testified that he and Willis traveled together to Belize, Aruba and California and took cruises together, but said Willis paid him back in cash for some travel expenses that he had charged to his credit card. Defense attorneys have sought to cast doubt on the claim that Willis paid Wade in cash, pressing both of them on why Willis would use cash and if they had any evidence that she paid him with it.

Willis’ father’s testimony seemed to support his daughter’s assertion that she keeps large amounts of cash at home. Willis’ father, John Clifford Floyd III, testified that he lived with her for a while beginning in 2019 and stayed in the house even after she left in early 2020, when she got threats and became concerned for her safety. Floyd testified that he always told his daughter to have six months of cash on hand.

“It’s a Black thing,” Floyd said. “Most Black folks, they hide cash, they keep cash.”

It’s unclear when the judge might rule on whether Willis and her office should be disqualified from the case. Judge Scott McAfee said during a hearing Monday that Willis could be disqualified “if evidence is produced demonstrating an actual conflict or the appearance of one.”

Willis, who had previously tried to avoid testifying, agreed to do so Thursday after a former friend and co-worker testified that Willis and Wade’s relationship began earlier than they had claimed.

Robin Yeartie, who previously worked in the district attorney’s office, testified that she saw Willis and Wade hugging and kissing before he was hired as special prosecutor in November 2021. Wade and Willis both testified that they didn’t start dating until 2022 and that their relationship ended months ago.

Willis’ removal would be a stunning development in the most sprawling of the criminal cases against Trump. If she were disqualified, a council that supports prosecuting attorneys in Georgia would need to find a new attorney to take over. That successor could either proceed with the charges against Trump and 14 others or drop the case altogether. Even if a new lawyer went forward with the case, it would very likely not go to trial before November, when Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee for president.

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Willis and Wade’s relationship was first revealed by Merchant, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, a former campaign staffer and onetime White House aide. Merchant has alleged that Willis personally profited from the case, paying Wade more than $650,000 for his work and then benefiting when Wade used his earnings to pay for vacations the pair took together.

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