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Trump lawyers fail to wring out testimony from ‘star witness’ in Fani Willis hearing

A frustrated bench of defence attorneys for Donald Trump and his co-defendants in Georgia came up short in a hearing they hoped would extract bombshell evidence in their case to disqualify the district attorney’s office prosecuting them.

Instead, Terrence Bradley said he was only “speculating” about his knowledge of a relationship between Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Nathan Wade, the prosecutor she hired to lead the sprawling election interference case against the former president and his allies.

Mr Wade’s former law partner – and former divorce attorney – was ordered to return to the witness stand on Tuesday after the judge overseeing the case determined that what he could say about their relationship was outside the bounds of attorney-client privilege.

 (AP)
(AP)

Attorneys for Mr Trump and his co-defendants have argued that Mr Bradley’s testimony could reveal key details about the timeline of Mr Wade’s relationship with Ms Willis, following allegations that she financially benefited from the case by hiring a man with whom she was romantically involved.

If attorneys can substantiate those allegations, and prove that the now-former couple was involved before Ms Willis hired Mr Wade, her entire office could risk disqualification, throwing the case against Mr Trump into jeopardy.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee labelled Mr Bradley a “star witness” for the defence.

But one after another, defence attorneys could only confirm that Mr Bradley had no direct conversations with Mr Wade or proof that his relationship with Ms Willis began more than two years ago.

Closing arguments on the matter are scheduled on Friday,

Ashleigh Merchant, right, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Mike Roman, and her husband and law partner John Merchant, left, attend a hearing at the Fulton County courthouse on 27 February (EPA)
Ashleigh Merchant, right, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Mike Roman, and her husband and law partner John Merchant, left, attend a hearing at the Fulton County courthouse on 27 February (EPA)

Ashleigh Merchant – an attorney for co-defendant Mike Roman – repeatedly pressed Mr Bradley to answer whether Ms Willis and Mr Wade started a relationship when she served as a judge in South Fulton in 2019.

She presented text messages and an email showing communication with Mr Bradley since September when she began investigating allegations surrounding a relationship that the prosecutors have since admitted to.

“I was speculating,” Mr Bradley said. “No one told me that.”

Asked when he “learned” about their alleged meetings at an office, and whether the couple had sex there, he said he did not recall ever hearing that from Mr Wade.

Ms Willis and Mr Wade have testified that their romantic relationship began in early 2022 – after Mr Wade was hired on the case – and ended last summer, before Mr Trump and his co-defendants were indicted.

Ms Merchant pointed to messages indicating that Mr Wade and Ms Willis first met at a conference when they were both municipal court judges in 2019, which they both have confirmed, but Ms Merchant has argued that the couple began dating shortly after, rather than nearly three years later.

“Terrence, you told me that it started when they were both municipal court judges, right?” she asked.

“That is incorrect,” he said.

Mr Bradley did not recall when Mr Wade told him about his relationship with Ms Willis, and that a conversation about her came up only once.

“I recall him stating that at some point they were dating. I can’t tell you what date that was,” he said. “I do not recall any other time that they mentioned they were in a relationship, no.”

Ms Merchant reminded Mr Bradley of a series of text messages while she was gathering information about her allegations and the complaint against Ms Willis.

“Do you think it started before she hired him?’ And you said, ‘Absolutely,’” she said.

“Do you recall me asking how they would react? Would they attack me? And you told me that they would deny it,” she added.

Mr Bradley repeatedly testified that he was merely speculating.

Mr Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow, appearing over Zoom while Mr Bradley was seated in an Atlanta courtroom, was nearly yelling as he asked why he would “speculate” about their relationship timeline.

“Why in the heck would you speculate in this text message?” he said.

“You don’t want to admit it in court,” he added at one point. “What you want the court to believe and what you want the rest of us to believe … you decided on your own to simply speculate and put it down in a text message.”

Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor in an election interference case against Donald Trump and more than a dozen others, attends a hearing involving allegations against him and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on 27 February (Getty Images)
Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor in an election interference case against Donald Trump and more than a dozen others, attends a hearing involving allegations against him and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on 27 February (Getty Images)

Judge McAfee repeatedly tried to move a string of defence attorneys away from repetitive lines of questioning.

“He’d made some comments to you along the way that led you to believe he had more knowledge than today he’s testifying that he had,” he told Ms Merchant.

Mr Trump is charged alongside more than a dozen co-defendants – including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former attorney Rudy Giuliani – as part of an alleged “criminal enterprise” to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results, from using a so-called “fake elector” scheme to falsely assert his victory in the state and pressuring election workers and state officials, to seizing vote information from machines in another county in the state.

Four of his original co-defendants in the Fulton County case – including Trump-allied attorneys Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell – reached plea deals with prosecutors.