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Judge Lets Fani Willis Stay on Trump Case Despite ‘Lapse in Judgement’

For weeks now, Georgia’s prosecution of the case against former President Donald Trump and his allies has been stalled over ethical questions regarding Georgia Prosecutor Fani Willis’ relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.  On Friday, a judge ruled that Willis can remain in charge of the case — if Wade agrees to step down.

He did so a few hours later. “I accept it, effectively immediately,” Willis wrote in response to Wade’s resignation letter. “I compliment you for the professionalism and dignity you have shown over the last 865 days, as you have endured threats against you and your family, as well as unjustified attacks in the media and in court on your reputation as a lawyer.”

Willis charged Trump and 18 of his associates last August in a sprawling racketeering case alleging a conspiracy to interfere with the results of Georgia’s 2020 election. In January, Trump co-defendant Mike Roman accused Willis of engaging in an improper romantic relationship with Wade, who was hired to assist in the prosecution of the case and paid over $600,000 for his work. Roman requested that Willis be removed from the prosecution, and the case against him dismissed, case on ground that the affair presented a conflict of interest.

Georgia Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee wrote in his Friday ruling that “the Court finds the allegations and evidence legally insufficient to support a finding of an actual conflict of interest. However, the appearance of impropriety remains and must be handled as previously outlined before the prosecution can proceed.”

“The Court finds that the evidence did not establish the District Attorney’s receipt of a material financial benefit as a result of her decision to hire and engage in a romantic relationship with Wade […] The evidence demonstrated that the financial gain flowing from her relationship with Wade was not a motivating factor on the part of the District Attorney to indict and prosecute this case,” McAfee added.

The judge accused Willis of exhibiting a “tremendous lapse in judgment” in deciding to pursue a relationship with Wade. He ultimately determined that the situation “highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that infects the current structure of the prosecution team – an appearance that must be removed through the State’s selection of one of two options.”

Essentially: Wade or Willis, one has to go.

Last month, after initially denying the allegations, Willis finally admitted that she and Wade had an affair, but claimed the relationship began after Wade had been hired onto her prosecution team in November 2021. In a tense February hearing before McAfee, Willis’ former co-worker Robin Yeartie contradicted her timeline of events, telling the court that the couple’s relationship began years before Wade was hired.

In her own testimony before the court, Willis denied Yeartie’s timeline and sparred with Roman’s attorney. “You’re confused. You think I’m on trial,” Willis said during questioning. “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.”

Roman’s lawyers argued that trips Willis and Wade had taken together over the course of their relationship, which ended in 2023, to allege the prosecutors had engaged not only in an improper personal relationship, but a financial one as well. Both Wade and Willis pushed back fiercely against the accusations in their respective testimonies.

In the time it’s taken to resolve the matter, Willis’ actual case against the former president has taken another major blow. On Wednesday, McAfee threw out six charges against the former president and some of his co-defendants related to the former president’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which he asked him to “find” the votes necessary to win the state. McAfee agreed with the defense’s claims that prosecutors had not adequately demonstrated that the defendants actions surrounding the call merited charges of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.

Willis was not on trial, but the evidence presented to McAfee was enough to determine that even if no disqualifying conflict of interest took place, Willis and Wade’s relationship was dubious enough that one of them needed to step aside to maintain public confidence in the prosecution.

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