Georgia prosecutor’s ex-lover resigns from Trump’s case

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis,

Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor in Donald Trump’s Georgia election interference case, has resigned after a judge said his affair with District Attorney Fani Willis was inappropriate.

Trump and his co-defendants had tried to get Ms Willis disqualified, saying her relationship with Wade – whom she hired – compromised the trial.

The judge disagreed – but said it did create an “appearance of impropriety.”.

He said either Ms Willis or Mr Wade should leave the case to resolve that.

Wade’s resignation letter admitted no wrongdoing, and said his decision was “in the interest of democracy, in dedication to the American public, and to move this case forward as quickly as possible.”.

“Seeking justice for the people of Georgia and the United States, being part of the effort to ensure that the rule of law and democracy are preserved, has been the honor of a lifetime,” he continued.

In a letter accepting his resignation, Ms Willis praised him for his “professionalism and dignity”, and for having endured threats since joining the case.

In his ruling earlier on Friday, Judge McAfee said Ms Willis had committed a “tremendous lapse in judgement” by engaging in an affair with Wade, and also called her testimony last month “unprofessional.”.

Trump and the 18 others are being prosecuted in Georgia for conspiracy to overturn the state’s 2020 election results – which they deny.

But they accused Ms Willis – who is leading the prosecution, of misconduct, for having a romantic relationship with Wade, a lawyer she hired on the case.

They alleged there was a financial conflict of interest, saying the couple used the money paid to Wade to fund luxury trips together.

But Ms Willis and Wade denied this – saying there were no financial benefits, for example they split the cost of their holidays together.

Judge Scott McAfee ruled there was not enough evidence that there had been a conflict of interest – but he found there had been an “appearance of impropriety”, and there was a “need to make proportional efforts to cure it” before the case could continue.

The Georgia election interference case is one of four criminal cases Trump faces, that both sides of the political aisle are watching closely ahead of November’s presidential election.

But some of the cases have faced delays. His New York case over alleged hush money payments to a porn star was due to begin in March, but it may now be pushed back after prosecutors agreed to a request from Trump’s lawyers to delay it. A hearing is scheduled for March 25 to consider the requested 30-day extension.

In Florida, where Trump is facing charges for his alleged mishandling of classified documents, both sides also say the trial will need to be postponed – although a judge denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the case outright.

In his 23-page ruling on Friday, McAfee presented Ms Willis with two options: to step down, along with her team, and have the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council take the case over, or have Wade step down and allow “the public to move forward without his presence or remuneration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case.”.

“[A]n outsider could reasonably think that the district attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences,” McAfee wrote. “As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist.”

Trump’s lead lawyer on the Georgia case released a statement on Friday, saying: “While respecting the court’s decision, we believe that the court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade.

“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.”

Trump and his co-defendants could appeal the judge’s ruling and further delay the proceedings.

The former president criticised judge McAfee’s decision in a fundraising email sent by his campaign team, saying it was “not enough” to remove Wade and calling the case a “rigged witch hunt.”.

‘A win-win’

According to Adrienne Jones, an assistant political science professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, delaying the case was exactly what Trump and his co-defendants had hoped for. “They will ride that out as long as possible,” she said.

Ms Jones characterised the judge’s decision as effectively a win-win for both Ms Willis and Trump. The district attorney has the option to stay on the career-defining case, she said, and Trump might not face trial before he is possibly elected president where he could then have more sway over the proceedings.

However, Ms Jones said the judge’s “gratuitous comments” about Ms Willis’s behaviour could harm the case by undercutting her credibility.

“The judge is commenting on the quality of her professionalism, and that is an erosion of reputation,” Ms Jones said.

To the question of whether this could have an effect on a potential jury, Ms Jones said: “Absolutely. Everybody here is likely to be influenced by the news coverage of the judge’s decision. It’s not like people are ignorant of what’s happening.”

The case has not yet been scheduled for a trial.

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