Fulton County hearing live updates: Fani Willis takes the stand in contentious hearing with Trump case on the line

Written by on February 16, 2024

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(ATLANTA) — The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s Georgia election interference case is set to hear arguments over motions to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, primarily over accusations that she benefited financially from a personal relationship with a prosecutor she hired for the case.

Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign staffer, filed a motion last month seeking to dismiss the charges against him and disqualify Willis, alleging that she improperly benefited from a “personal, romantic relationship” with prosecutor Nathan Wade. Trump and seven other defendants in the case subsequently joined the effort.

Willis and Wade, in a court filing, admitted to the relationship but said it “does not amount to a disqualifying conflict of interest.” The office also flatly denied any financial benefit, saying the relationship “has never involved direct or indirect financial benefit to District Attorney Willis.”

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 15, 5:35 PM
Court adjourns, Willis will be back on stand Friday

DA Fani Willis stepped off the stand for the day following more than two hours of highly charged testimony.

The DA is scheduled to be back on the stand tomorrow morning for the hearing’s second day.

Judge McAfee reviewed other motions for Day 2, then adjourned the hearing until Friday.

Willis did not respond to questions from ABC News after leaving the courtroom.

Feb 15, 5:21 PM
Willis questioned by lawyers for other co-defendants

After Trump attorney Steve Sadow wrapped up his questioning of DA Fani Willis, the attorneys for other co-defendants got their chance — but the judge appeared to grow frustrated as defense attorneys attempted to find new lines of questioning.

Allyn Stockton, representing co-defendant Rudy Giuliani, asked Willis about contracts given to Wade’s law partners.

“Did Wade’s law partners, Bradley and Campbell, also get contracts with the DA’s office?” Stockton asked.

“Yes but only for a short time after I first became DA. Then I let them go when my office was properly staffed,” she replied.

Harry MacDougald, representing co-defendant Jeffrey Clark, briefly questioned Willis about her financial disclosure form before the judge told him to sit down.

“I don’t believe she answered that question, Your Honor,” MacDougald said.

“She answered as to specific individual gifts,” Judge McAfee, appearing more frustrated, responded. “And you’re not listening to my answer either. So we’re done.”

Feb 15, 4:56 PM
Willis says she didn’t consider relationship romantic before hiring

Pressed further by Trump attorney Steve Sadow, DA Fani Willis testified regarding prosecutor Nathan Wade that she did “not consider our relationship to have become romantic until 2022.”

“I don’t consider my relationship to be romantic with him before that,” she said of Wade’s hiring.

Sadow suggested that Wade and Willis have not been truthful about the timing.

When he asked Willis who she told about the relationship, Sadow suggested her “failure” to notify other members of team suggests that the relationship “was not as its been characterized to the court” and “that it started earlier than what they say.”

Willis said her and Wade were friends since at least 2020.

“I want to be clear, because my credibility is being evaluated,” she said.

Feb 15, 4:47 PM
Willis testifies early relationship with Wade wasn’t romantic

DA Fani Willis was pressed repeatedly by Trump attorney Steve Sadow about whether Willis had a romantic relationship with Wade prior to November 2021.

“I’m asking you whether or not prior to Nov. 1 of 2021, there was a romantic relationship with Mr. Wade?” Sadow asked.

“I didn’t consider my relationship with him to be romantic before that,” Willis said.

Sadow asked Willis whether Wade visited the condo leased by her friend Robin Yeartie. Willis previously said she took over Yeartie’s lease at one point and paid her rent.

“Would you give us an approximation of how many times Mr. Wade visited you at the condo between the time you moved in and prior to November 2020?” Sadow asked.

“I don’t think often, but I don’t — I don’t want to speculate,” Willis replied.

Feb 15, 4:35 PM
Trump attorney questions Willis in tense exchange

Former President Trump’s attorney Steven Sadow is now questioning Fani Willis on the stand.

As Sadow stepped up to question her, he started with a veiled dig at the DA.

“I’m going to try to ask you questions that you can actually answer without having to explain, OK?” Sadow said.

“Yes, sir. My comprehension skills are pretty good. So we should do all right,” Willis replied.

“We shall soon see,” Sadow said.

Sadow began questioning Willis about her condo, which Wade testified earlier that he visited before being hired.

At one point when Sadow raised his voice, Willis said, “You don’t have to yell at me.”

Feb 15, 4:14 PM
Judge urges decorum after heated moment

Following a brief recess, the hearing resumed with Judge Scott McAfee urging decorum following the shouting match.

“I advise everyone — this being a room mostly full of lawyers — I urge everyone to keep those principals in line and not talk over each other,” the judge told the court.

But as Willis’ heated testimony continued, the judge threatened to strike Willis’s testimony.

“I’m going to have to caution you — you have to listen to the questions asked, and if this happens again and again, I’m going to have no choice but to strike your testimony,” the judge told the DA.

Feb 15, 4:02 PM
‘You lied,” Willis tells defense attorney who filed allegations

DA Fani Willis heatedly told defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant “You lied” just before a shouting match broke out.

“You’re confused. You think I’m on trial. 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 ” Willis said forcefully from the stand.

Speaking earlier about prosecutor Nathan Wade, Willis said she and Wade had a “tough conversation” in August after their relationship ended, but that her respect for him has grown “over the seven weeks of these attacks.”

That prompted an objection from Trump attorney Steve Sadow.

Willis than answered by saying “You lied” to Merchant, and a shouting match ensued between Sadow, Merchant, Willis and the judge.

The court then went into a brief recess.

Feb 15, 3:52 PM
Willis testifies that she paid for trips in cash

DA Fani Willis pointedly testified that she paid prosecutor Nathan Wade for the cruise they took and Aruba trip they went on — in cash — before they even went.

“Did you pay him back? For the cruise and for Aruba?“ asked defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant.

“Yeah, I gave him his money before we ever went on that trip,” Willis replied.

“And so when you got cash to pay him back on these trips, did you go to the ATM?” asked Merchant.

“No,” said Willis.

“So the cash that you would pay him, you wouldn’t get it out of the bank?” Merchant asked.

“I have money in my house,” Willis replied. “For many, many years I have kept money in my house.”

“I just have cash in my house,” Willis continued. “I don’t have as much today as I would normally have, but I’m building back up now.”

Willis testified that her father says, “As a woman you should always … you should have at least six months in cash at your house at all time.”

“I don’t know why this old black man feels like that. But he does,” she said.

Feb 15, 3:41 PM
Willis says she and witness haven’t had ‘consistent friendship’

DA Fani Willis, in heated testimony, said that Robin Yeartie, who testified earlier, betrayed her friendship and that both of them have not retained a “consistent friendship.”

“There’s a saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,'” Willis said. “And I think that she betrayed our friendship.”

“I ran into her about 10 years ago in Atlanta, Georgia,” Willis said of Yeartie. “So we didn’t talk throughout that time period. I didn’t see her. I didn’t even know where she was.”

“And so yes, I have known her probably since 1990, 1991, but we have not maintained a consistent relationship that whole time,” Willis added.

Earlier, Yeartie testified that Willis told her about the romantic relationship with Wade.

Yeartie said she saw them “hugging, kissing, just affection.”

Willis said at one point said she took over Yeartie’s lease and would pay her rent in cash or by Cash App.

Feb 15, 3:34 PM
Willis testifies she and Wade began dating in 2022

DA Fain Willis, on the stand, testified that she and prosecutor Nathan Wade began dating in 2022 — rebutting an earlier witness who testified the relationship began before Wade was hired.

Speaking about a trip that she and Wade took in April 2022, Willis testified they began dating “right around then.”

“When did you start dating?” defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked.

“It was right ’round then,” Willis responded.

“April 2022?” Merchant asked.

“Around then,” Willis said.

Feb 15, 3:20 PM
Willis, on the stand, slams accusations and media coverage

DA Fani Willis began her testimony by slamming the allegations against her, as well as co-defendant Mike Roman’s attorney, and the news media for its coverage.

“I’ve been very anxious to have this conversation with you today,” Willis said almost immediately. She also said, “I’ve been in the office pacing.”

Willis plainly accused Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant of lying, and assailed the media.

“It seems today, a lawyer writes a lie and then it’s printed to all the world to see,” Willis said.

Willis’ remarks drew objection from Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow.

“I object to the speech making,” Sadow said, but Willis kept going.

“It’s highly offensive when someone lies on you,” Willis said.

Feb 15, 3:06 PM
Willis walks in unannounced, will take stand

As attorneys were arguing over DA Fani Willis’ testimony, Willis surprised the courtroom by walking in to the courtroom unannounced, and prosecutors withdrew their motion to quash the subpoena for her testimony.

The DA is now expected to take the stand.

Feb 15, 2:55 PM
Wade testified his income decreased with case

Under questioning from an attorney with the DA’s office, prosecutor Nathan Wade testified that his income decreased after signing on to work with Fulton County, and that he had to work “so many hours” that he couldn’t get paid for.

“In 2022, your estimated monthly income at that time was $14,000 a month?” special prosecutor Anna Cross asked.

“Yes,” Wade replied.

“In 2023, what did that number come to?” asked Cross.

“$9,500,” Wade said.

When asked about the hours Wade worked that he didn’t get paid for due to a cap, because of a cap, Wade said there were “so many hours” that he worked that he couldn’t get paid for.

“This invoice makes me cry,” Wade said. “There’s so many hours here that I worked that I couldn’t I couldn’t get paid for.”

“This is not the type of job that you can walk away from just because you’re not getting paid for it,” Wade said.

Feb 15, 2:47 PM
Wade asked about visiting Willis’ condo

Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow asked Wade about visiting Willis’ Atlanta-area condo before November 2021, which would have been prior to his getting a contract with the DA office.

“Did you and Ms. Willis go to the Hapeville condo prior to Nov. 1, 2021?” Sadow asked.

“Yes,” said Wade, who said he “maybe went to talk about a document that I received.”

Sadow then asked Wade if phone records showed Wade made calls from Willis’ condo prior to November 2021 ,would they be wrong.

“Yes sir,” Wade replied.

Asked what other reasons phone records would show him making calls from that area if they were not made from Willis’ apartment, Wade pointed to the airport near Hapeville.

Feb 15, 2:19 PM
Wade testifies divorce timing was a coincidence

Donald Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow asked Nathan Wade why he filed his divorce after being hired by Fulton County.

“Can you answer the question why you waited until Nov. 2, the day after you were hired by Miss Willis. to file for divorce?” asked Sadow.

“I can’t,” Wade replied.

Wade explained that because his ex-wife had relocated to Texas, he was only able to serve her the divorce papers when she returned to Georgia.

“It was purely by coincidence that I filed the day after the contract with the DA’s office,” Wade said.

Feb 15, 2:16 PM
Wade pressed on why Willis reimbursed trip costs in cash

In a stern line of questioning, Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow challenged prosecutor Nathan Wade on why DA Fani Willis would reimburse him in cash for travel and trips.

“You would have received thousands of dollars in cash from Miss Willis, correct?” Sadow asked.

“Yes, sir,” replied Wade.

Trump’s attorney then asked Wade if he “knew the source of the cash” – which Wade said he did not, claiming it was “out of her pocketbook.”

Sadow followed up, wondering why Willis’ form of repayment didn’t stand out to Wade.

“The whole time that you she was paying you in cash, you never said, ‘Hey, why do you have this amount of cash?'” Sadow asked.

Wade answered that in his law practice, “people come into my law firm all the time with cash” and that he “never questioned where they got it.”

Sadow shot back, saying, “But we’re talking not about people that come into your law firm — we’re talking about the district attorney of Fulton County, who I’m assuming receives a paycheck. She doesn’t get paid in cash.”

Wade also testified that he never saw any records of Willis making cash withdrawals.

Feb 15, 2:09 PM
Wade testifies relationship with Willis ended last year

Facing questions from former President Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow for the first time, prosecutor Nathan Wade testified that his relationship with Willis ended in the summer of 2023.

“I would say June maybe,” Nathan said of the timing.

Sadow and Wade then went through an awkward line of questioning regarding whether Wade had a “personal” relationship after the breakup.

“Are you asking me if I had intercourse with the district attorney?” Wade asked bluntly.

“I was trying not to,” Sadow responded. Wade eventually answered no.

Sadow also peppered Wade with questions about who knew about the relationship.

“If it was a legitimate relationship, is there any reason this relationship was kept secret or private?” he asked.

“We weren’t trying to keep anything secret, Mr. Sadow,” Wade said later.

Feb 15, 2:04 PM
Defense questions Wade on his contract with Fulton County

Craig Gillen, the attorney for Trump co-defendant David Shafer, pressed Nathan Wade on his contract with Fulton County, how much he was paid, and the timeline of his personal relationship with DA Fani Willis.

“During the course of romantic relations, yes or no — you signed [the] extension on November the 15th, 2022?” Gillen asked, referring to Wade’s contract with Fulton County.

“The answer to that question is yes,” Wade replied.

“Ater the Aruba trip, you get re-upped with a new contract?” Gillen asked.

“Correct,” replied Wade.

Asked by Gillen about an invoice that billed Fulton County for “24 hours of work in one day,” Wade said the date reflects when he completed the task of preparing the election case for pretrial.

“Tell the court what you billed for on November 5, 2021,” Gillen said.

“On November the 5th, I completed the task of preparing the cases for pretrial,” Wade said. “That’s the date I completed…” Wade continued, before being interrupted by Gillen, who said, “Just read it.”

Feb 15, 1:43 PM
Wade questioned if he had ‘sexual relations’ with Willis

Prosecutor Nathan Wade was questioned by defense counsel regarding his relationship with DA Fani Willis and specifically asked if he had “sexual relations” with her.

He was specially questioned by Craig Gillen, the attorney for Trump co-defendant David Shafer, about answers he gave on a interrogatory related to Wade’s divorce, when Wade was asked if he had any sexual relations with a woman during his marriage and separation to his now-ex-wife.

“Let’s just get down to it,” Gillen asked Wade. “Did you or did you not, by May the 30th, 2023, have had sexual relations with Miss Willis, yes or no?”

“Yes,” Wade replied.

Wade was then asked why he answered “none” on the interrogatory related to the divorce.

“I didn’t answer ‘no’ to the question you just asked,” Wade said. “I answered ‘no’ to the interrogatory question.”

Wade was then pressed on the cash payments he earlier testified that Willis made to him to reimburse him for travel costs.

“You don’t have a single solitary deposit slip to corroborate or support any of your allegations that you were paid by Ms. Willis in cash, sir? Not a single, solitary one?” Gillen asked.

“Not a single one,” Wade replied.

Feb 15, 12:54 PM
Wade testifies he never discussed relationship publicly

Prosecutor Nathan Wade testified that he never talked about his romantic relationship with DA Fani Willis in social settings, after a witness earlier testified that she had observed the relationship.

“Did you discuss your personal relationship, your private personal romantic relationship, with Miss Willis in social settings?” defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked Wade.

“No, ma’am,” Wade replied.

Merchant then asked if Wade ever discussed his relationship with Willis while around Robin Yeartie, the friend of Willis who testified earlier that Wade and Willis’ relationship began prior to the start of the Trump election interference case.

Wade testified that he did not.

Wade said he and Willis are “private people” and said their relationship “wasn’t a secret. It was just private. So not at all … I wouldn’t have discussed my relationship with Miss Yeartie or anyone else.”

Feb 15, 12:19 PM
Wade testifies Willis often paid him back for their travels

Addressing allegations that he paid for DA Fani Willis’ travel when the two of them traveled together, prosecutor Nathan Wade testified that Willis often paid him back in cash or spent money on him in other ways so that expenses roughly “balanced out,” insisting that Willis “carries her own weight.”

“All of the vacations she took, she paid you cash?” defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked.

“Yes ma’am,” Wade said.

The defense has accused Willis of improperly benefiting financially from the relationship, by paying Wade a salary that was then used to pay for their travels together.

Speaking more broadly, Wade insisted that throughout their entire relationship, Willis paid her own way, painting it as character trait of hers.

“If you’ve ever spent any time with Mrs. Willis you understand she’s a very independent proud woman, so she’s going to insist that she carries her own weight,” he testified.

“It actually was a point of contention between the two of us,” Wade said. “She was going to pay her own way.”

Wade went through the various trips booked on his credit card, one by one, including trips to Napa Valley and Belize. In one instance, Wade testified it was actually Willis who paid for the “entire trip” — despite the fact that it was on his credit card.

On the Napa trip, Wade testified that Willis paid for the excursions, “so the expenses sort of balances out.” He said it was like any relationship: “In a relationship, you don’t — particularly men — you don’t go asking back,” Wade said. “You’re not keeping a ledger.”

Feb 15, 11:45 AM
Wade testifies his relationship with Willis began in 2022

Prosecutor Nathan Wade, refuting earlier testimony claiming his relationship with DA Fani Willis started before she hired him on the election interference case case in November 2021, testified that the relationship started in 2022.

“When did your romantic relationship with Mrs. Willis begin?” defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked him.

“2022,” Wade replied.

“When?” Merchant pressed.

“Early 2022,” Wade responded.

“What’s early?,” Merchant asked.

“Around March,” Wade said.

Wade was then asked about conversations he and Willis had around their first meeting in 2019. He testified that they spoke two or three times in 2019.

“She felt comfortable calling for advice,” he testified.

He said the calls progressed and they spoke more frequently. He testified that in 2021, the discussions between him and Willis became “frequent.”

Feb 15, 11:29 AM
Wade testifies he’s ‘not recalling’ traveling with Willis in 2021

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade, asked if he traveled with DA Fani Willis around the time prior to the Trump election interference case being launched, stated that he’s “not recalling” that after being pushed to answer “yes” or “no.”

When asked by the defense if he traveled with Willis in 2023 or 2022, Wade said he did — but he gave a different answer when asked about 2021.

“Did you travel with her in 2021?” defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked.

“I’m not recalling any travel in 2021,” Wade replied.

“It’s not yes or no, you just don’t remember?” Merchant pressed.

An attorney for the DA said during Merchant’s questioning, “We’re going pretty far field into divorce matters.” But the judge let questioning continue.

Feb 15, 11:05 AM
Nathan Wade takes the stand

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade is now on the stand.

Fulton County prosecutors made a motion to quash the subpoena for Wade to testify, but Judge Scott McAfee rejected the motion, saying the “evidence in front of the court at the moment” is that a witness testified that the relationship predated his hiring, which contradicts their court filing.

“I don’t see a way around the relevance of his testimony,” said the judge.

Feb 15, 11:00 AM
Witness testifies Willis told her of relationship with Wade

Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow drilled down into the testimony from Former DA office employee Robin Yeartie that Willis told her repeatedly that she and Wade were in a relationship before he was hired in 2021.

“Told you that in the year of 2020?” Sadow asked.

“Yes,” Yeartie said.

“In the year of 2021?” Sadow asked.

“Yes,” Yeartie said.

“Are you certain that Mrs. Willis told you about the romantic relationship with Mr. Wade prior to November 1 of 2021?, Sadow asked.

“Yes,” Yeartie said.

Yeartie also testified she saw them “hugging, kissing, just affection.”

All before he was hired?

“Yes,” Yeartie said.

Feb 15, 10:48 AM
Former employee testifies that Willis, Wade were dating earlier

Former DA office employee Robin Yeartie testified that Fani Willis and Nathan Wade began dating prior to the Trump election interference case — contradicting the claim in the state’s court filing that the relationship started after Wade was hired.

“You know their personal relationship began shortly after” they met at a conference in October 2019, attorney Merchant asked the witness.

The witness, who said she was a old friend of Willis, replied, “Yes.”

Yeartie is testifying via Zoom after she didn’t appear in the courtroom.

The state is objecting to questions from the defense seemingly at every chance they can, which is significantly slowing down the proceedings. The judge has remained patient, but Michael Roman’s attorney Ashleigh Merchant appears to be growing frustrated with the state’s strategy.

Feb 15, 10:34 AM
Wade associate invokes attorney-client privilege

Terrance Bradley, a former law partner of Nathan Wade, is declining to answer questions about Fani Willis and Wade’s relationship, citing attorney-client privilege.

“I was advised by the bar … I cannot reveal anything that I saw or learned,” Bradley said. “I am here because I also have a law license and I’m not trying to lose that.”

The judge pushed back, saying, “That’s a broader representation of attorney-client privilege than I’ve ever heard.”

The debate has drawn the first comments from Donald Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow, who said of Bradley’s view of attorney-client privilege, “There is no such case law.”

Sadow even suggested Bradley be held in contempt if he continues to refuse to answer questions.

Feb 15, 10:07 AM
Associate of Wade’s takes the stand

Michael Roman’s attorney Ashleigh Merchant called her first witness in the effort to disqualify DA Fani Willis — a former DA office employee named Robin Yeartie, who Merchant says has firsthand knowledge that Wade and Willis’ relationship began before he was hired, in contradiction to Wade’s sworn affidavit — but Yeartie is not in court yet.

As a result, a new first witness has taken the stand: Terrence Bradley, a former business associate of prosecutor Nathan Wade who represented him in his divorce case.

“It wasn’t my choice,” Bradley said of having to testify today.

The state has objected to Bradley’s testimony, saying it is protected by attorney-client privilege. But Roman’s team says the information is not related to his representation of Wade in the divorce matter.

Feb 15, 9:39 AM
Hearing is underway

The evidentiary hearing is underway in front of a packed courtroom.

DA Fani Willis has not yet entered the courtroom, but special prosecutor Nathan Wade is present, along with multiple attorneys for defendants in the DA’s election interference case, including Trump attorney Steve Sadow and Mike Roman’s attorney Ashleigh Merchant.

Two of Trump’s co-defendants in the case, Harrison Floyd and David Shaffer, are also in attendance.

Feb 15, 9:24 AM
Trump attending NYC hearing

Former President Trump’s attorney has arrived for the Fulton County proceedings, but his client won’t be attending the hearing.

Instead, Trump is attending a hearing in his criminal hush money case in New York.

The former president is not required to be at either of the two hearings taking place today.

Feb 15, 8:45 AM
Attorneys have clashed in court filings

The district attorney’s office and attorneys for the defendants have traded accusations in a series of court filings leading up to Thursday’s hearing.

Trump co-defendant Michael Roman has accused Fani Willis and Nathan Wade of violating “laws regulating the use of public monies” and says they “suffer from irreparable conflicts of interest.” Specifically, he alleges Wade paid for multiple trips for him and Willis, including to Napa Valley and Belize. Credit card statements later revealed Wade paid for at least two flights for Willis on his credit card.

Wade, in an affidavit submitted to the court, said expenses between him and Willis were “roughly divided equally” and that he used his personal funds. The affidavit also said the relationship started after he was hired on the case in 2021, and that he and Willis have never cohabitated.

However, Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, has alleged some of the statements in Wade’s affidavit were inaccurate. Merchant says she a witness ready to testify that the relationship predated Wade’s hiring, which would dispute Wade’s affidavit.

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