Fulton County hearing: Trump case hangs in balance as judge mulls DA Willis' disqualification

The defense wants to disqualify DA Fani Willis in Trump's Georgia election case.

Following three days of testimony plus closing arguments, Scott McAfee, the judge overseeing former President Donald Trump's Georgia election interference case, is weighing motions to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, primarily over accusations from Trump co-defendant Michael Roman that she benefited financially from a "personal, romantic relationship" with prosecutor Nathan Wade, who she hired for the case.

Willis and Wade, in a court filing, admitted to the relationship but said it "does not amount to a disqualifying conflict of interest" and that the relationship "has never involved direct or indirect financial benefit to District Attorney Willis."

Defense says Willis committed 'unforgivable' misconduct

In a court filing responding to Willis' filing, Trump's attorneys reemphasized their stance that Willis committed "appalling and unforgivable" forms of forensic misconduct, accusing her of "testifying falsely" about the timeline of her relationship with prosecutor Nathan Wade.

Trump attorney Steve Sadow said in the filing that Willis also committed forensic misconduct by "stoking racial and religious prejudice" against the defendants with her church speech following the allegations, in which she said the allegations were motivated by race.

"While the State claims that no prosecutor has ever been disqualified in Georgia for forensic misconduct, no prosecutor in Georgia, elected or otherwise, has engaged in misconduct like Willis and Wade have here," the filing states.

Trump's attorney urged the judge "not to permit" Willis and Wade to continue on the case "where they have flouted and violated" rules of conduct.

"To do otherwise will be viewed by the public and within the criminal justice system as an open license for prosecutors to engage in flagrant and egregious misconduct without repercussion or appropriate sanctions by the very court before which the misconduct occurred," the filing said.

Willis urges court to reject disqualification effort

DA Fani Willis's office on Tuesday urged the judge to reject the disqualification effort against her, arguing in a filing that Trump and his co-defendants failed to meet the "high" standard required by law to disqualify an elected district attorney.

Willis' office, in the filing, told the judge the law requires him to find a "high standard of proof" that she has an actual conflict of interest or that she engaged in forensic misconduct -- which she says she did not do. She urged the judge to reject the arguments from Trump and others that the judge can disqualify her based solely on an appearance of a conflict.

"The binding caselaw in Georgia is clear: a trial court is not authorized to disqualify an elected district attorney absent a showing," the filing states. "Every Georgia case that has addressed the issue has reached the same conclusion: in order to authorize a trial court to disqualify an elected district attorney, an actual conflict of interest must be proven."

The filing said Trump and some of his co-defendants have asked the judge to instead to adopt a "novel" legal standard for disqualification "that has never before been recognized in Georgia."

"But no such standard exists under our law," the filing states.

The filing also emphasized that, based on the law, any alleged benefit a prosecutor received must be material, writing that a "nebulous" benefit that is not directly tied to the outcome of the case "is not enough to warrant disqualification."

"Here, the Defendants have not even alleged -- and certainly have not proven --that the District Attorney received any benefit contingent upon the outcome of this case," the filing said.

Co-defendant says 2nd witness can dispute timeline testimony

As Judge Scott McAfee continues to weigh the potential disqualification of DA Fani Willis, one of Trump's co-defendants is now offering a second witness who they say would dispute the testimony of prosecutor Nathan Wade's former attorney, Terrance Bradley, regarding his lack of knowledge of the timing of Wade and Willis' relationship.

Attorneys for defendant Cathy Latham say they spoke to attorney Manny Aurora, who represented former co-defendant Kenneth Chesebro, who later took a plea deal in the election case. Aurora, according to a motion filed Monday, told them he had "several" conversations with Bradley in which Bradley said he had "personal knowledge" regarding the timeline of Willis' relationship with Wade, which Willis and Wade testified did not begin until after Willis hired Wade to work on the election case in November 2021.

According to the motion, Bradley allegedly told Aurora during their discussions that Wade and Willis had "definitely" begun a romantic relational in 2019.

"Mr. Bradley stated he had personal knowledge of the relationship between Mr. Wade and district Attorney Willis, including details regarding the use of Ms. Robin Yeartie's apartment such as Mr. Wade's having a garage opener to the property," the filing claims.

Merchant subpoenaed to testify in front of Ga. Senate panel

Ashleigh Merchant, the attorney for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman who first launched the effort to disqualify DA Fani Willis from the election case, is expected to testify this week before the Georgia Senate committee that's investing allegations of misconduct against Willis.

Merchant told ABC News she was subpoenaed for the Wednesday hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Investigations, which says it is investigating Willis and will potentially "enact new or amend existing laws and/or change state appropriations to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system."

At the committee's first hearing earlier this year, GOP Chairman Sen. Bill Cowsert said it was not within their authority to seek to disqualify Willis or criminally prosecute her, but rather to "investigate many of these troubling allegations."

Cowsert said they would be "ready to enforce" their subpoena power.

State attorney says arguments don't prove 'actual conflict'

Adam Abbate, an attorney with the district attorney's office, argued that defendants had failed to meet the "high standard of proof" for disqualification -- calling the narrative they spun about Willis and Wade's relationship "absolutely absurd."

"It doesn't make any sense," Abbate said. "The motions to disqualify should be denied, and Miss Willis as district attorney of Fulton County, and Mr. Wade, as the special prosecutor assigned to this case, should be allowed to remain on this case and continue to prosecute the case."

Contrary to what defense attorneys argued, Abbate argued that they must prove an "actual conflict" of interest to secure a disqualification -- not just the "appearance of impropriety."

"The defense has to show an actual conflict, and in this instance, they have to show in the actual conflict would be that Miss Willis received a financial benefit or gain -- and got it based upon the outcome of the case," Abbate said.

"We have absolutely no evidence that Miss Willis received any financial gain or benefit," he argued. "The testimony was that Miss Willis paid all of the money back in cash as related to the trips."

Judge McAfee seemed skeptical of that argument, citing language that allows for removal based on the "appearance of impropriety" and referencing examples of past misconduct raised by the defendants.

Abbate pushed back, arguing that in each of those cases, the "appearance of impropriety ... arose from the fact that the court found an actual conflict in each of those cases."

Abbate also called into question the credibility of defendants' key witnesses in the disqualification hearings, calling the testimony of Robin Yeartie, ex-friend of Willis, "at best inconsistent."