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Nathan Wade resigns from Fani Willis-led Trump election case after judge's ruling: Highlights

Defense attorneys argued Willis should be removed from the case because of her relationship with Wade, who was hired to serve as a special prosecutor.

The latest news in the Georgia election interference case:

  • Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing Donald Trump's election interference trial, ruled that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should not be disqualified from prosecuting the racketeering case against the former president and several co-defendants, but either she or special prosecutor Nathan Wade should leave the case.
  • Just hours after the decision was announced, Wade resigned and Willis accepted his resignation, the DA's office announced. The choice was likely an easy one: If Willis had removed herself, the case would have been reassigned to another prosecutor, which could have jeopardized it.
  • Defense attorneys argued Willis should be removed from the case because of her relationship with Wade, whom she hired in November 2021. Willis and Wade have said their romantic relationship didn't begin until after he was hired, while defense lawyers alleged it began earlier.
  • Willis has charged Trump and 18 co-defendants with racketeering for their alleged actions in trying to overturn the 2020 election. Four have taken guilty pleas.

Trump hush money trial postponed until mid-April, judge rules

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

The trial in the New York hush money case against former President Donald Trump has been delayed until the middle of April, Judge Juan Merchan ruled Friday.

Merchan said the trial — originally scheduled to begin March 25 — would be pushed back 30 days from Friday.

Read the full story here.

Trump celebrates Wade's exit from the case

Kyla Guilfoil

Trump wrote in a post to Truth Social Friday that Wade had "just resigned in disgrace" from the Fulton County case.

Trump went on to say that Wade was hired as special prosecutor "to persecute TRUMP ... for purposes of Election Interference and living the life of the Rich & Famous."

McAfee found earlier today that the evidence presented to him didn’t establish Willis’ “receipt of a material financial benefit as a result of her decision to hire and engage in a romantic relationship with Wade.”

The former president compared Wade's resignation to the possibility of Special Counsel Jack Smith being removed from his classified documents case, which Trump said "should happen in the not too distant future!!!"

Wade resigns, allowing case to proceed

Blayne Alexander

Alana Satlin

Blayne Alexander and Alana Satlin

Wade formally resigned from the case today, saying in a letter to Willis that he was "proud" of the work the team had accomplished.

"I am sure that the case, and the team, will be in good hands moving forward and justice will be served," he said.

Willis accepted his resignation, which allows the prosecution in Georgia to continue. In her acceptance letter, she praised his work for the team and his "courage."

"I will always remember — and remind everyone — that you were brave enough to step forward and take on the investigation," she said.

Kenneth Chesebro's lawyer calls ruling 'well reasoned'

Kyla Guilfoil

Isabelle Schmeler

Kyla Guilfoil and Isabelle Schmeler

Manny Arora, attorney for Kenneth Chesebro, formerly one of Trump's co-defendants in the case, said McAfee's ruling was "very well reasoned."

"[McAfee] outlined the shortcomings of the DA’s conduct and their testimony in this case as lacking in a lot of credibility," Arora said in a statement.

"However, I think he correctly found that those are ethical lapses that some other agency needs to look at. It doesn’t directly impact the Trump prosecution," Arora added.

Prosecutors said that Chesebro was the mastermind behind the fake electors plot intended to overturn the 2020 election. He took a plea deal in October, pleading guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit filing false documents in exchange for his testimony.

Attorney for another Trump co-defendent says team is 'assessing next steps'

Isabelle Schmeler

Alana Satlin

Isabelle Schmeler and Alana Satlin

An attorney for one of Trump's co-defendants in the Georgia case said that they are "assessing next steps" after this morning's ruling.

Christopher S. Anulewicz, who represents Robert Cheeley, said, "We believe the finding of impropriety requires the disqualification of the entire prosecution team and are assessing next steps."

McAfee's ruling found that no "actual conflict" existed, only the "appearance of impropriety."

Prosecutors have said that Cheeley, a lawyer, helped spread false claims about election fraud. He was charged with several counts, including perjury, and pleaded not guilty.

Michael Roman's attorney says the ruling is a 'vindication'

Blayne Alexander

Kyla Guilfoil

Blayne Alexander and Kyla Guilfoil

Michael Roman's attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, who filed the original motion against Willis, responded to McAfee's ruling in a statement Friday.

In the statement, Merchant said that while her team believes Willis should have been disqualified entirely, the opinion is "a vindication" of their criticism of Willis.

"The judge clearly agreed with the defense that the actions of Willis are a result of her poor judgment and that there is a risk to the future of this case if she doesn’t quickly work to cure her conflict," Merchant's statement said.

"While we do not agree that the courts suggested cure is adequate in response to the egregious conduct by the district attorney, we look forward to the district attorneys response to the demands by the court," the statement added.

In Trump's New York case, DA says 15,000 more records will be handed over today

Adam Reiss

Adam Reiss and Tom Winter

Yesterday, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg advised the court that, from March 4 to March 8, the U.S. Attorney’s Office produced approximately 73,000 pages of records to the defendant in response to a subpoena in January. Another 31,000 pages of "additional records" were handed over on Wednesday.

Bragg's office said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office advised the DA and defendants today that it plans on filing an additional 15,000 records today, which it said will complete its response to the defendants’ subpoena.

Bragg finishes his letter by saying, “We understand that the vast majority of the forthcoming records, like the initial productions, are likely to be unrelated to the subject matter of this case and not within the People’s prior requests.” 

After Willis ruling, Trump shares a video of former lawyers discussing case

Kyla Guilfoil

In his first public comment since the Willis ruling, Trump posted a video to his Truth Social account of two of his former lawyers discussing the ruling with Laura Ingraham on Fox News. The former president called the clip a "must watch."

"They may be watching the last few bubbles escape the Titanic on the way down when it comes to Georgia," James Trusty, one of the attorneys, said.

David Schoen, who represented Trump during his second impeachment trial, went on to say that McAfee was "onto something" with the charges that he dropped in the ruling.

"This judge is onto something with the charges that he dismissed," Schoen said in the broadcast. "His problem with them was one can't really know how to defend against them, because they're not specific enough."

Marjorie Taylor Greene says judge should have recused himself

Kyla Guilfoil

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., accused McAfee of bias, saying in a post on X that he should have recused himself because he had donated to Willis' campaign in the past and also worked for the Fulton County District Attorney's office (although not when Willis was the DA.)

McAfee donated $150 to Willis' campaign in June 2020, campaign finance reports show, but he was working for the Justice Department at the time and not as a judge. He was appointed to the bench by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022.

The congresswoman called on the Georgia elections board to "seriously investigate" Willis and Wade, adding that she has "filed multiple complaints."

"The corruption in Fulton County, Georgia is some of the worst in the nation. It makes most of us in Georgia sick," she wrote.

Why Wade is likely to depart Trump Georgia case after judge’s ruling

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Wade is likely to withdraw from the prosecution of the election interference case because the only other option, McAfee wrote, is for Willis and her office to step aside and the case would then need to be referred to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council for reassignment. Removing her from the trial would put the case in jeopardy, but if she stays on the case, it can continue without interruption.

Who is Michael Roman?

Kyla Guilfoil

Michael Roman, one of Trump's senior campaign staffers, was the first of Trump's co-defendants to accuse Willis of having a conflict of interest.

His attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, filed a lawsuit against the Fulton County district attorney’s office in January with the allegations as part of their efforts to have the charges dismissed.

After Roman made the first move, the allegations gained traction as Trump and others signed on.

Roman worked on both Trump's 2016 and 2020 campaigns, as well as serving as an assistant for him while he was in office. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

McAfee says Willis' church speech defending Wade was 'improper'

Charlie Gile

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Charlie Gile and Rebecca Shabad

McAfee wrote that the speech that Willis gave at Big Bethel AME Church in mid-January after the allegations of a romantic relationship were made was wrong.

"It was still legally improper," the judge wrote. "Providing this type of public comment creates dangerous waters for the District Attorney to wade further into."

During the speech, Willis defended Wade and his work as special prosecutor and suggested that the allegations made against them and their relationship were motivated by race.

McAfee wrote, "The District Attorney ascribed the effort as motivated by ‘playing the race card,' and said Willis referred to Wade as "the ‘black man’" while she labeled her other assistant district attorneys as "‘one white woman’ and ‘one white man.’"

"The effect of this speech was to cast racial aspersions at an indicted Defendant’s decision to file this pretrial motion," McAfee wrote.

McAfee says outsider could think Willis isn't exercising independent judgment

Charlie Gile

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Charlie Gile and Rebecca Shabad

The judge wrote that as the election interference case proceeds, "reasonable members of the public could easily be left to wonder whether the financial exchanges have continued resulting in some form of benefit" to Willis.

"An outsider could reasonably think that the District Attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences," he said. "As long as Wade remains on the case, this unnecessary perception will persist."

McAfee wrote, "an odor of mendacity remains."

"The Court is not under an obligation to ferret out every instance of potential dishonesty from each witness or defendant ever presented in open court," he said. "Such an expectation would mean an end to the efficient disposition of criminal and civil proceedings."

Trump's lawyer says they will continue to fight to end case

Blayne Alexander

The lead lawyer for Trump in the Georgia case reacted to today's ruling by saying that they still believe there is a conflict of interest and that they will continue to fight the case:

"While respecting the Court’s decision, we believe that the Court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade, including the financial benefits, testifying untruthfully about when their personal relationship began," he said, also citing a speech that Willis gave on MLK Day that the defendants have criticized.

"We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place," he said.

Judge says no evidence that Willis' benefits from Wade were a factor in election interference case

Charlie Gile

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Charlie Gile and Rebecca Shabad

McAfee wrote that the court finds that the evidence didn't establish that Willis' "receipt of a material financial benefit as a result of her decision to hire and engage in a romantic relationship with Wade."

"In addition — and much more important — the Court finds, based largely on the District Attorney’s testimony, that 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," he said.

McAfee noted that the defendants argued that the financial arrangements between Willis and Wade "created an incentive" to prolong the election interference case. But, he said, there's no sign that the district attorney's office is trying to postpone anything and "the record is quite to the contrary."

Evidence presented during the evidentiary hearing in February showed that Wade was paid almost $700,000 in two years as the special prosecutor working on the election interference case, which was much more than Willis was making as district attorney. The two took multiple vacations together when they were romantically involved, which Wade paid for with his credit cards and he said Willis reimbursed him in cash.

McAfee says defendants' lawyers failed to prove due process rights were violated

McAfee wrote that the lawyers for the defendants in the election interference case, who sought to disqualify Willis, didn't show that their clients' due process rights were violated.

"There has not been a showing that the Defendants’ due process rights have been violated or that the issues involved prejudiced the Defendants in any way," he said.

McAfee wrote that the result in election interference case must instill 'confidence in the process'

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Charlie Gile

Rebecca Shabad and Charlie Gile

McAfee wrote that whether the election interference case ends in "convictions, acquittals, or something in between, the result should be one that instills confidence in the process." 

"A reasonable observer unburdened by partisan blinders should believe the law was impartially applied, that those accused of crimes had a fair opportunity to present their defenses, and that any verdict was based on our criminal justice system’s best efforts at ascertaining the truth," he said. "Any distractions that detract from these goals, if remedial under the law, should be proportionally addressed."

McAfee says there are 'reasonable questions' about whether Willis and Wade testified truthfully

Charlie Gile

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Charlie Gile and Rebecca Shabad

McAfee wrote in the ruling that there are "reasonable questions" about whether Willis and Wade testified truthfully at the evidentiary hearing last month about when their relationship began.

He said those questions "further underpin the finding of an appearance of impropriety and the need to make proportional efforts to cure it."

McAfee says evidence from evidentiary hearing showed 'appearance of impropriety'

In his ruling, McAfee wrote that the testimony provided during the evidentiary hearing "established that the District Attorney’s prosecution is encumbered by an appearance of impropriety."

McAfee said that even if the romantic relationship between Wade and Willis developed after Wade was appointed as special prosecutor in November 2021, Willis "chose to continue supervising and paying Wade while maintaining such a relationship."

"She further allowed the regular and loose exchange of money between them without any exact or verifiable measure of reconciliation," the judge wrote. "This lack of a confirmed financial split creates the possibility and appearance that the District Attorney benefited — albeit non-materially — from a contract whose award lay solely within her purview and policing.”

A recap of the allegations against Willis

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

In early January, one of the Trump co-defendants in the election interference case, Michael Roman, accused Willis of having a romantic relationship with Wade.

Willis was accused of hiring Wade after she began a relationship with him in order to benefit financially from his appointment because they took trips and vacations together. Roman and his legal team, as well as Trump's legal team, accused Willis of having a conflict of interest in the case.

Willis and Wade have rejected the allegations that there was a conflict of interest and have said emphatically that their relationship began after he joined the district attorney's office.

McAfee was tasked with deciding whether to disqualify Willis from prosecuting the election interference case. Before making his decision today, he heard testimony from Willis, Wade and others who may have been aware of the relationship.

Decision is a partial victory for Willis

+2

Blayne Alexander

Charlie Gile

Blayne Alexander, Charlie Gile and Dareh Gregorian

The judge also found there was no “actual conflict” brought about by the relationship, a finding that would have required Willis to be disqualified. “Without sufficient evidence that the District Attorney acquired a personal stake in the prosecution, or that her financial arrangements had any impact on the case, the Defendants’ claims of an actual conflict must be denied,” the judge wrote. 

The decision is a partial victory for Willis and leaves open the possibility the case could be tried before the 2024 presidential election. Had Willis been disqualified outright, the case would have had to go to a different prosecutor, who would be tasked with catching up on a case that Willis spent more than two years building.

Read the full story here.

Willis case can continue if she or Wade remove themselves, judge rules

+2

Blayne Alexander

Charlie Gile

Dareh Gregorian, Blayne Alexander and Charlie Gile

A Georgia judge ruled that Willis will not be disqualified from prosecuting the racketeering case against Trump and several co-defendants — but because of the appearance of impropriety she or the special prosecutor she had a relationship with must step down from the case.

The choice is likely to be an easy one: If Willis were to remove herself, the case would come to a halt, but having Wade leave the case will ensure it continues without further delay.

A ruling is expected today in Trump’s Georgia election interference case surrounding Willis and her ability to stay on the trial. NBC’s Laura Jarrett joins "TODAY" with analysis.

Here's what you may have missed in Trump's cases in Florida and New York yesterday

Florida

Judge Aileen Cannon heard arguments yesterday in Florida in Trump's classified documents case. Attorneys for Trump argued the charges against the former president should be dropped, filing two motions to dismiss the case. The judge rejected one of those motions, saying Trump’s argument that the main statute prosecutors are using against him is unconstitutionally vague was premature.

Cannon also seemed skeptical about an argument made by Trump's lawyers to dismiss the case based on the Presidential Records Act. Lawyers for special counsel Jack Smith’s office disputed that argument.

New York

The Manhattan DA overseeing Trump's prosecution over alleged hush money paid to a porn actress shortly before the 2016 election said in court documents yesterday that his office doesn’t oppose delaying his hush money trial, which is currently scheduled to begin March 25. Trump had previously requested a 90-day delay.

Bragg's filing, which suggests a 30-day delay, comes after federal prosecutors began turning over tens of thousands of documents this month tied to their 2018 probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is expected to serve as a key witness in the trial.

McAfee confirms he will rule today on whether or not to disqualify Willis in Trump's Georgia case

McAfee said in an interview with WSB-TV yesterday that he will rule on whether or not to disqualify Willis from the Georgia election interference case against Trump.

“What can you tell us about the timing of your order on the Fulton DA disqualification issue?” WSB-TV's Mark Winne asked McAfee yesterday.

“I made a promise to everybody. These kind of orders take time to write. I need to say exactly what I want to, and I plan to stick to the timeline I gave everyone,” McAfee said.

“So this week?” Winne asked McAfee.

“Should be out tomorrow,” McAfee said.

McAfee first said during a March 1 hearing that he anticipated ruling on the matter "within the next two weeks."