In the Fani Willis and Nathan Wade scandal that is clouding the Trump case in Georgia

It hardly seems possible, but the criminal charges against Donald Trump have been overshadowed by another story: allegations of misconduct against Fani Willis, the Georgia district attorney who brought the election interference case against the former president.

It's a convoluted drama that includes allegations that she had a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade, suggestions that taxpayer dollars funded romantic getaways and calls for her to be removed from office. It plays out in the divorce court, the criminal court and the court of public opinion.

Here we explain how it developed and what could happen next.

What role does Fani Willis play in Donald Trump's legal saga?

Willis is the Fulton County district attorney, the top prosecutor in the largest district in the Atlanta area. Before being elected in 2020, she was a prosecutor and chief municipal judge in South Fulton.

In 2021, it launched a criminal investigation into alleged attempts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to influence the 2020 election in Georgia. Last August, Trump and 18 others were charged with racketeering for allegedly conspiring to change the election results. Four defendants have now pleaded guilty in the case and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

So who is Nathan Wade?

Wade is an Atlanta-area criminal defense attorney who maintains a private practice specializing in contract disputes and family law. Previously, he was a prosecutor and a former part-time deputy municipal judge. Wade has also been an informal adviser to Willis since at least 2019, when she was first elected chief municipal judge.

In 2021, Willis hired Wade and two others as special counsel in the Trump case. According to the Washington Post, Wade led the Trump investigation through the initial investigation and the special grand jury.

Why did Willis have to hire a special prosecutor?

A special prosecutor is an independent prosecutor appointed to investigate a specific case of public importance or a conflict of interest for the normal law enforcement agency in that area. Given the size of the state case and the large number of defendants, it is no surprise that Willis sought outside help.

Months after Willis launched the criminal investigation into the 2020 election, she hired Wade; John Floyd, a renowned extortion law expert; and former prosecutor Anna Cross as special counsel overseeing the Trump case.

“The truth is, and I mean this in no disrespect to Mr. Wade in any way, that he was not my first choice for special counsel,” she said in an interview in 2022, according to The New York Times. Willis said that she was advised by other lawyers was rejected for the position before convincing Wade to accept the position on November 1, 2021.

“He wasn’t afraid,” she added. “And I needed someone who wasn’t afraid.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears with special prosecutor Nathan Wade at a press conference in August.

Joe Raedle/Getty

What about the allegations against Wade and Willis?

Put simply, the two were accused of having an affair and taking lavish trips funded by Wade's large special prosecutor paycheck.

The claim was first made public on January 8, when Trump adviser Michael Roman's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss charges against his client. The motion alleges that Willis and Wade began their romantic relationship before he was appointed Trump special prosecutor and that they “conducted an inappropriate, secret personal relationship during the pendency of this case.”

The filing shows Wade was paid about $654,000 as special prosecutor. That tax money – which was approved by Willis' office – was then allegedly used to pay for some of the trips he allegedly took with Willis to Miami, Aruba and California.

Michael Roman poses for his booking photo at the Fulton County Jail on August 25, 2023 in Atlanta.

Michael Roman poses for his booking photo at the Fulton County Jail on August 25, 2023 in Atlanta.

Fulton County Sheriff's Office via Getty

While Roman dropped the bombshell, it was the Wade divorce case that provided the receipts.

In an attempt to subpoena Willis for information about Wade's finances, his estranged wife's lawyers filed a motion with credit card statements showing he took at least two flights with Willis between 2022 and 2023 and a seat for the prosecutor's mother bought on a flight to Miami.

Where is the divorce?

On Tuesday evening, the Wades reached a tentative agreement on several undisclosed matters ahead of a final settlement in their divorce case.

The agreement came just a day before Wade was scheduled to testify at a divorce hearing, where he likely would have faced questions about his finances and the alleged affair before the judge decided whether to subpoena Willis.

What do Wade and Willis say about these allegations?

Not much. They have until Friday to formally respond in writing to the misconduct allegations after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is handling the Trump extortion case, scheduled a hearing for Feb. 15. Willis and Wade were subpoenaed to testify at the evidentiary hearing. That's according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by Roman's attorney, in which he claimed the DA's office had “blocked” efforts to obtain public information. (The prosecutor's office denied the allegations.)

Willis hinted at the controversy in a speech at an Atlanta church in which he defended Wade's qualifications and her ability to hold office. She didn't mention Wade by name but described him as a “superstar, a great friend and a great lawyer.”

“They didn’t tell me that as a woman of color, it didn’t matter what I did — my motive, my talent, my abilities and my character would be constantly under attack,” she said.

Former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan told The Daily Beast that he expected Wade and Willis' answers Friday to be “really straightforward.” Even if there was an affair, that doesn't mean they violated ethics rules in Fulton County, he said.

“Mr. Wade earned this money,” Morgan added. “I think it's an exaggeration to say that she gave him the job so they could go on a trip. They go on trips together; he doesn't pay a bribe. “

Will this affect the impeachment of Trump?

Theoretically it could be.

Morgan doesn't believe McAfee will dismiss the Trump case after the Feb. 15 hearing or disqualify Wade or Willis. (If Willis is removed from office or the prosecutor withdraws, a state agency would have to appoint another prosecutor.)

But, Morgan said, McAfee could allow an appeal of his decision on the motion to dismiss, which could put the Trump case in Georgia on hold. “That’s exactly what this is about. Embarrass law enforcement and delay this case,” he said.

Could Willis or Wade be punished in some way?

That remains to be seen. Republicans in the Georgia Senate passed legislation last week to create a panel to investigate allegations that Willis had a conflict of interest or misused public funds in hiring Wade. The special committee, made up of three Democrats and six Republicans, cannot remove her from office, but its hearings could be politically damaging. Republican state Rep. Charlice Bryd also filed a resolution calling for Willis' impeachment, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene filed an ethics complaint against Wade.

There is no denying that the allegations against Willis have become a distracting sideshow in the serious racketeering case against the former president, who also faces charges in three other jurisdictions.

“It's suggestive and has the twist that it's about a female boss hiring a male employee,” Morgan said. “At the end of the day, sex always sells.”