Georgia DA Fani Willis breaks silence over Donald Trump case prosecutor

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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has defended her hiring of private attorney Nathan Wade as lead prosecutor in the election fraud case against former President Donald Trump and 14 others, suggesting that those who have questioned his ability are being unfair and possibly racist.

Willis made her remarks Sunday at the Big Bethel A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, six days after one of Trump’s 14 remaining co-defendants accused her of having an improper romantic relationship with Wade that was serious enough to have them both thrown off the case.

Without mentioning him by name, Willis said Wade was not only a “great friend” but an experienced and well-respected lawyer with the “impeccable” credentials needed to be a special prosecutor overseeing the sprawling racketeering case.

Willis talked about how she hired two other lawyers – a white man and a white woman – to also help her prosecute Trump and his co-defendants on charges of trying to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

More: Trump Georgia co-defendant alleges DA Fani Willis had improper relationship with prosecutor

Describing each one as a “superstar,” she asked, "Isn't it them playing the race card when they only question one?”

"The Black man I chose has been a judge more than 10 years, run a private practice more than 20, represented businesses in civil litigation − I ain’t done y’all,” Willis said. “Served as a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer, special assistant attorney general.”

In her 35-minute speech, at times emotional, Willis admitted being an “imperfect” and even “flawed” human being who makes mistakes. She also said she has been the victim of numerous threats and has received a lot of abuse lately that has included racial slurs.

But Willis did not address some of the more salacious accusations in the motion filed last Monday by former Trump campaign official Michael Roman.

In that 127-page document, Roman accused Willis of acting improperly by paying Wade more than $650,000 in taxpayer money in the case while having been engaged in a romantic relationship with him.

Roman’s motion, filed by Atlanta lawyer Ashleigh Merchant, also accused Wade of lacking the “relevant experience” needed to prosecute a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, case like the one against him, Trump and others.

Roman also accused Wade of using some of that money to finance lavish vacations with Willis, including trips to California wine country and Florida and excursions on Caribbean cruises.

Roman offered no specific proof to back up any of the allegations in the court motion, which seeks to disqualify Willis, Wade and the entire Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Specifically, he accused Willis of acting to “defraud the public of honest services” by personally benefiting from the undisclosed conflict of interest.

Wade hasn’t spoken publicly in response to the allegations, even when they came up in a previously scheduled court hearing in the case Friday that he attended. Willis has said through a spokesperson that she will address the allegations via the court process.

In the court hearing Friday, Superior Judge Scott McAfee said he would take up the question next month after Willis responds.

In the meantime, the accusations have prompted attacks on Willis by Trump, some GOP lawmakers in Congress and other critics who say it’s proof that Democratic politicians and prosecutors are engaging in a witch hunt against the former president.

On Monday night, Merchant pushed back on Willis’ defense, telling USA TODAY that the accusations against Wade have “nothing to do with the color of his skin."

The biggest difference between the two other special prosecutors and Wade, she said, “is that Ms. Willis is not in a relationship with them and did not take vacations paid for by” them.

Georgia DA in Trump case responds to allegations of improper relationship with prosecutor
Georgia DA in Trump case responds to allegations of improper relationship with prosecutor

Chris Timmons, a longtime former Georgia state prosecutor and RICO and jury trial expert, said Willis’ failure to address the more serious allegations in the motion could raise more questions than answers about whether her hiring of Wade was justified and why she picked him for such a high-profile assignment.

More: Will Trump's trial in Georgia be on TV? Yes, it will. Here's what that means for America.

“It's not about the morality of it all, it’s about the legal ethics and being a good steward of taxpayer money,” said Timmons, an ABC News legal consultant. “You don't spend more than $600,000 in taxpayer money to help and hire a friend if they're not qualified to do the job.”

Timmons said the two other private-sector lawyers also hired by Willis, John Floyd and Anna Cross, do have much more relevant experience for such a high-stakes prosecution.

Timmons, who said he is familiar with Wade’s legal background, said he “doesn't have the experience that you would expect for somebody to run an investigation of this size.”

More: Will Trump's trial in Georgia be on TV? Yes, it will. Here's what that means for America.

“If you go over to the doctor world, he's the equivalent of a general practitioner,” Timmons said. “And she's asking him to do brain surgery – and paying him like a brain surgeon.”

Clark Cunningham, a professor of law and ethics at Georgia State University College of Law, told USA TODAY he worried that allies of Trump might be trying to engage in a smear campaign against Willis by alleging such improprieties without including affidavits from witnesses willing to put their name publicly behind them.

“Whatever information they have, they should give it to the (Georgia) attorney general and let him investigate. And have the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look to see if there's a crime,” Cunningham told USA TODAY. “Or go to the new Prosecuting Attorneys’ Qualifications Commission, which is exactly designed to investigate and discipline this kind of behavior. Have they done all that?”

More: Georgia DA proposes to try Donald Trump, 18 co-defendants Oct. 23, despite Trump's opposition

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fani Willis breaks silence about Donald Trump case prosecutor