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Updated Mar 15, 2024, 3:40pm EDT
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Lead prosecutor in Trump’s Georgia case resigns after judge’s ruling

Insights from Just Security, Lawfare, and The New York Times

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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a hearing on Feb. 15, 2024.
REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
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A Georgia judge ruled Friday that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis could stay on former President Donald Trump’s election interference case if she cuts all ties with the case’s lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade, with whom she had a romantic relationship with.

Later on Friday, Wade resigned from his position as special prosecutor, saying he was doing it “in the interest of democracy... and to move this case forward as quickly as possible.”

The Trump team “failed to meet their burden” in proving Willis’s relationship with Wade was a “conflict of interest” to merit her removal from the case, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee ruled. But he found “impropriety” in Willis’s and Wade’s relationship, and said she must step aside if Wade does not leave the case.

Trump and his co-defendants had argued that Willis’s romantic relationship with Wade, who she hired to oversee the case, benefitted her financially, and should have barred her from working on the indictment. Willis and Wade have both strenuously denied any wrongdoing that would have merited their disqualification.

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Legal experts say evidence presented didn’t merit disqualification

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Sources:  
MSNBC, Just Security

“Judge McAfee’s decision is an easy one with a clear path,” MSNBC News legal contributor Katie S. Phang wrote last week: Trump’s co-defendants’ didn’t show the evidence legally required to disqualify Willis, she said, so the district attorney should remain on the case.

“Whether there were personal failings is not the operative legal test for whether Willis or Wade should be disqualified from the case,” legal experts wrote for Just Security, arguing that there was no basis in Georgia law for removing Willis and Wade based on the evidence presented. “Even if all the factual allegations regarding Willis and Wade were true, there would be no basis for disqualifying them,” the experts wrote.

Calls for Wade to step down or risk being removed

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Sources:  
Just Security, CNN, Lawfare

Regardless of whether he was guilty of any wrongdoing, the legal experts who wrote for Just Security said before the decision was made that Wade, the special prosecutor, should voluntarily step down from the case to “dispense with any lingering concerns” and prevent any in the future. (Wade stepped down Friday after the judge’s ruling.)

“His continued presence will create a distraction, and his departure, in addition to an on-the-record hearing in court, is the best path,” they wrote. Several advisers and confidants of Willis have urged her to encourage Wade to step aside, CNN reported.

Even though the judge didn’t disqualify Wade, two legal experts wrote for Lawfare that Willis should remove him. “Wade has displayed a sufficient lack of candor with the courts that he is not a credible figure to continue to represent the state in this case,” they wrote, including when he seemed to misrepresent his relationship with Willis during his divorce proceedings. They said while those misrepresentations don’t add up to what Trump’s co-defendants are alleging, they still “taint the prosecution if he remains involved with it.” Others have argued that both Willis and Wade should step aside.

Disqualified or not, the allegations sow distrust of Willis

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Sources:  
ABC News, The New York Times

“I don’t think there is any scenario where this [isn’t] a bad situation for the prosecutor,” one legal ethics professor told ABC News, saying that this will continue to distract from the case even if Willis isn’t disqualified. “In the near term, when it comes to optics and public perception, it does unfortunately interfere with the perception of integrity,” he said.

“It stokes doubt in members of a Fulton County jury, it stokes doubt in the process of the prosecution,” another law professor told The New York Times. She added: “These are all negatives that take our focus away from whether or not under Georgia law the former president and his colleagues have the right to engage in the kind of behavior they were engaging in.”

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