Ex-Trump Aide’s Lawyer Details Start of Her Fani Willis Investigation

Brynn Anderson/Reuters
Brynn Anderson/Reuters

A lawyer representing former Trump aide Mike Roman in the Georgia election interference case testified before a state committee on Wednesday, detailing how she first learned about Fani Willis’ secret romance with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

Ashleigh Merchant told the Georgia Senate Committee she heard about the affair last summer from Terrence Bradley, who was Wade’s former law partner and one-time divorce lawyer. She said she reached out to Bradley as part of her months-long investigation into Willis and Wade, which began with public records requests about the special prosecutor’s salary.

Bradley initially said he could not help her. Then, she ran into him in September 2023, at which point he allegedly told her about Willis and Wade’s relationship. Merchant said Bradley was upset about Wade’s ongoing divorce proceedings with his estranged wife, which began in November 2021, just after he was hired by the DA’s office.

“The Wades were still married, and [Nathan] essentially just left her after meeting Ms. Willis and dropping the kids off at college," Merchant alleged. “[Bradley] did not like the way [Wade] had treated his wife….He didn’t like what was happening in the divorce proceedings.”

Merchant is the first person to be subpoenaed by the Georgia Senate Committee that’s investigating allegations that the Fulton County district attorney misused her office and public resources when she hired Wade. In January, Merchant filed a motion first alleging a relationship between Willis and Wade—and arguing that the DA should be disqualified from the racketeering case against Donald Trump and his co-defendants because she financially benefited from her affair.

Willis and Wade confirmed during an evidentiary hearing that they were in a romantic relationship from early 2022 to last summer, but denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest.

Defense lawyers, however, argue that Willis and Wade began their relationship before Willis was sworn into office and lied about it under oath. Merchant alleged Wednesday that she’d obtained phone records that showed 12,000 voice and text interactions between Willis and Wade between January and November 2021 but cannot see the content of the messages.

During an evidentiary hearing earlier this month, prosecutors pushed back on the cell phone data introduced as evidence, stating that it does not prove a romantic relationship and was not “peer-reviewed.” Bradley took the stand twice during the hearing but insisted that he couldn’t recall when the relationship began and invoked his attorney-client privilege with Wade.

“[Defense attorneys] were not able to provide any evidence as to the contrary of Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade's assertions of when their relationship began, there's absolutely no evidence that contradicts the relationship began around March of 2022,” Fulton County prosecutor Adam Abbate pushed back at the hearing, arguing that there is no evidence that the DA benefited from the case and its eventual outcome.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee is set to rule on whether Willis should be disqualified from the case within the next two weeks. The ruling is separate from the state committee probe, which lacks the power to sanction Willis but can subpoena witnesses and evidence to produce a report that could incite changes to state law about the DA’s budgeting.

Merchant’s testimony before the 12 bipartisan senators on Wednesday is not admissible evidence for McAfee’s ruling and the DA is also not present to respond to the testimony.

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