Special prosecutor quits after judge allows Fani Willis to stay on Trump’s Georgia case

Fani Willis speaks at a microphone.
Dist. Atty. Fani Willis acknowledged her former romantic relationship with the prosecutor who resigned Friday from Georgia’s 2020 election interference case. The ruling in Willis’ favor harshly criticized her judgment and questioned her truthfulness.
(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

A judge delivered a significant victory Friday to Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis, ruling that she would not be disqualified from leading the Georgia election interference case against former President Trump — as long as her lead prosecutor and former romantic partner, Nathan Wade, stepped down from the case.

Hours later, Wade offered his resignation, “in the interest of democracy” and to “move this case forward as quickly as possible.”

In a 23-page ruling, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said the defense had “failed to meet their burden of proving” that Willis’ relationship with the special prosecutor amounted to a conflict of interest.


But the relationship, McAfee said, had created the appearance of such a conflict in the sweeping racketeering trial, one of four criminal cases against the former president.

Wade’s withdrawal, the judge suggested, would allow “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.”

The judge stopped short of disqualifying Willis, but rebuked her for what he called a “tremendous lack of judgment,” and said that “reasonable questions remained” about whether she and Wade had been honest on the witness stand about the timing of their relationship and their financial exchanges.

“An odor of mendacity remains,” McAfee wrote.

But he concluded that “ultimately, dismissal of the indictment is not the appropriate remedy to adequately dissipate the financial cloud of impropriety and potential untruthfulness found here.”

Willis accepted Wade’s resignation, calling him an “outstanding advocate” who was “brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation.”

Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead defense counsel in the case, said that the judge’s ruling did not go far enough and that the former president’s legal team would use “all legal options available” to end the prosecution.


“While respecting the Court’s decision, we believe that it 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,’” Sadow said in a statement.

Trump and his co-defendants had pushed for Willis to be disqualified — a move that would have derailed the case, likely holding up the start date of a trial that could have a significant influence on the Nov. 5 presidential election. Trump has won enough delegates to become the Republican Party’s nominee.

Willis has sought an August trial. But the timeline is still uncertain. McAfee’s ruling is expected to be appealed — although some legal experts say it’s unlikely to be overturned.

Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor of constitutional law at Georgia State University, said McAfee gave Willis the best ruling possible.

“It is a total legal victory — and a huge political slap on the wrist,” Kreis said. “She definitely comes out scraped, battered and bruised — but that was true a month ago. And so the bigger question is: Is the case preserved? Yes. Have things been derailed? No.”

Crucially, McAfee found no evidence to suggest that Willis had profited from the investigation, Kreis said.


“That is a finding of fact that will be held up on appeal,” Kreis said. “That means that long term, it’s really unlikely that this ruling is going to be overturned on appeal; it makes it also exceedingly less likely that the Court of Appeals would even take this up.”

Willis, a Democrat, was a newly elected Fulton County district attorney when she opened a “high priority” criminal probe in February 2021 into efforts to overturn Republican Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia to Joe Biden.

After losing Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes, Trump raised baseless claims of election fraud and pressured GOP leaders in the state to help him reverse the result.

In August 2023, a Fulton County grand jury charged Trump and 18 of his allies in a sprawling 98-page indictment with racketeering and a dozen other felonies. Four of the defendants have since pleaded guilty to some of the charges.

The relationship between Willis and Wade first drew public scrutiny in January, when an attorney for Mike Roman, a co-defendant and former Trump campaign aide, filed a motion accusing the pair of engaging in an “improper, clandestine personal relationship.”

Defense lawyers sought to block Willis and her office from prosecuting the case, alleging Willis was already dating Wade when she hired him in November 2021 and then improperly benefited when she accompanied him on vacations he paid for.


Willis and Wade have acknowledged they had a relationship. But they testified that it did not begin until early 2022 — months after his hiring — and that it ended last summer. They also testified that they split travel expenses.

The prosecutors have argued there was no conflict of interest — and no evidence the district attorney gained direct or indirect financial benefit from the relationship.

Last month, the two sides sparred in hearings that played out like a daytime soap opera, as defense attorneys quizzed Wade on whether Willis had repaid him with cash for her share of their vacations, and asked Willis who paid when they went out for dinner.

On the witness stand, Wade described a birthday trip to Belize as a gift from Willis. Willis detailed a Napa Valley wine tour, saying that she’d paid in cash for Champagne paired with chocolate and caviar, and that she didn’t really like wine and would have preferred Grey Goose vodka.

Visibly upset as defense lawyers accused her of lying about the timeline of their relationship, Willis dismissed their allegations as “lies” and railed against what she characterized as intrusions into her personal life.

“You’re confused. You think I’m on trial,” she said at one point, confronting Roman’s defense attorney, Ashleigh Merchant. “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.”


Defense attorneys argue that allowing Willis to preside over the case threatens to undermine public confidence in an already charged and sensitive investigation. Even the appearance of a conflict of interest, they argue, is enough to remove her from the case.

That is disputed by Willis’ attorneys. They argued in a court filing that disqualification of a district attorney requires a “high standard of proof,” and that the defense had the burden of showing an actual conflict of interest.

Trump’s attorneys have continued to claim that Willis and Wade are lying about the timeline of the relationship.

The week after the two prosecutors testified, defense attorneys filed an affidavit detailing cellphone records that they said indicated Willis and Wade had exchanged just under 12,000 calls and text messages before Wade joined the investigation.

They also presented cellphone location data that they said showed Wade visited the South Atlanta neighborhood where Willis was living at least 35 times in the 11 months before she hired him. Wade had testified that he had been there fewer than 10 times during that period.

But Kreis said the evidence unrebutted in court showed that the relationship ended well in advance of any grand jury indictments being considered and ultimately handed down.


“That really undermines the argument that this prosecution is either selective or was somehow kind of strategically manipulated in order to enrich Fani Willis,” Kreis said.

Still, he said, the allegations of a conflict of interest — a narrative that Trump has seized on as he campaigns to reclaim the White House — threatened to taint the public’s perception of the prosecution.

McAfee’s ruling came two days after he delivered a partial win to Trump and his co-defendants, dismissing six counts on Wednesday — including three against the former president — related to accusations of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer. The judge said the counts “fail to allege sufficient detail” about what part of the oath the defendants had allegedly tried to get public officials to violate.

The timeline of Trump’s three other criminal cases is uncertain.

His federal trial on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, originally set to begin March 4, stalled last month as the Supreme Court agreed to consider his claim of “total immunity” from prosecution for actions alleged to have taken place while he was in office.

And on Friday, a judge delayed New York’s hush money trial over Trump’s 2016 payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels after his lawyers said they needed more time to sift through a profusion of evidence they only recently obtained from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan agreed to a 30-day postponement and scheduled a hearing to address questions about the evidence dump for March 25, when the trial had previously been set to begin.


Meanwhile, the judge in the federal classified document case in Florida, involving government files Trump stored at his Mar-a-Lago residence and club, has delayed that trial, which had been scheduled for May.

Prosecutors are seeking a new start date in July, and Trump’s legal team is pressing to delay the trial until after November’s election.