Judge unseals divorce case as conflict of interest lawsuits jeopardize Trump trial in Georgia

A Georgia judge on Monday overturned the divorce case in which a special prosecutor was at the center of allegations of an inappropriate relationship with the Fulton County district attorney who brought the racketeering case against Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

The judge also withheld testimony from Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis in the divorce until special prosecutor Nathan Wade – whom she hired for the high-profile Trump case – first testified about his relationship and financial circumstances.

Trump's co-defendant and 2020 campaign manager Michael Roman has filed a motion seeking to bar prosecutors from pursuing the case, saying the alleged relationship between Willis and Wade represents a conflict of interest.

To protect the records, the judge revoked the consent order that sealed the divorce proceedings because no court hearing had taken place at the time. Roman and a coalition of media organizations, including the Guardian, had separately applied to uncover the case.

Roman's allegations threaten to undermine one of the most complex and high-profile criminal cases against Trump, which could be heard before the 2024 election. Trump, who won the Iowa caucuses by 30 points last week, is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination.

Trump and his allies, including Roman, were charged last year with violating Georgia's anti-crime law for attempting to overturn the state's 2020 election results, including by publishing fake Trump voter lists and pressuring state officials to to falsify the vote counts.

The complaint about the relationship within the prosecutor's office surfaced in January after Roman sought Willis' firing, claiming that she personally benefited from hiring Wade because he demanded at least $653,000 in fees and that money used to pay for shared vacations.

Roman's argument suggests that while Wade had the freedom to spend his earnings as he wished, there was a conflict of interest when the money was used to benefit Willis.

Roman's file contained no concrete evidence that Willis personally benefited from hiring Wade. Roman's attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, a respected local attorney who previously assisted Wade as a judge in 2016, said the claims were based on sources and records from Wade's divorce proceedings.

But in a court filing filed last week by Joycelyn Mayfield Wade in her divorce proceedings, Wade's bank records, which were included as exhibits, showed that he had paid for at least two trips to Miami, Florida, and Napa Valley, California, with Willis listed as Trip listed was companion.

On the first trip on October 4, 2022, Wade paid for flights from Atlanta to Miami for himself and Willis. Separately, on the same day and without mention, Wade made two purchases from Royal Caribbean Cruises for $1,248 and $1,387.

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On the second trip on April 25, 2023, Wade paid for flights from Atlanta to San Francisco for himself and Willis. On May 14, 2023, Wade made two purchases for $612 and $228 at a Doubletree Hotel in Napa Valley.

Willis did not directly address the allegations. A spokesman said prosecutors would comment based on their court filings.

The allegations are scheduled to be heard next month after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the Trump case, scheduled an evidentiary hearing for Feb. 15. The date is two weeks after the judge hears the unsealing in the divorce case.

Wade began the divorce proceedings a day after he was hired as special prosecutor in the Trump case. The divorce became contentious last year after Joycelyn Mayfield Wade complained that her husband had not disclosed his finances, including income from work on the Trump case.

The complaint led to Wade being held in contempt by Cobb County's chief judge and Willis himself being subpoenaed in January seeking information about Wade's work.

The subpoena ordered Willis to attend a recorded statement on Jan. 23. At Monday's hearing, the judge also suspended the subpoena until Wade himself was informed of his financial situation by his wife.

Willis accused Wade's wife of “conspiring with interested parties in the criminal election interference case to use the civil investigative process to annoy, embarrass and oppress District Attorney Willis” and sought a protective order to prevent that the statement is hindered.