Fani Willis steps onto the stand, battling to retain control of Trump criminal case

The lead prosecutor in the Georgia case against Donald Trump testified on Thursday, passionately defending her position and condemning those who are trying to remove her from this pivotal criminal case in American history.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis became more confrontational when defense attorneys accused her of having a conflict of interest due to her romantic involvement with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she enlisted to assist with the case. Lawyers representing Trump and other defendants argue that Willis received improper advantages from the case, as Wade allegedly used funds earned from his involvement to finance multiple vacations that he and Willis enjoyed together in destinations like Aruba and Belize.

During the interaction with Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney representing one of Trump’s co-defendants, Willis emphatically expressed his disagreement. He firmly stated that Merchant’s assertions in the court documents were untrue and accused her of deceit. Willis was steadfast in his belief that he was not the one on trial; rather, it was the individuals involved in the alleged attempt to manipulate the 2020 election. Despite Merchant’s efforts to portray him as the accused, Willis remained resolute in asserting his innocence.

During a contentious daylong hearing, an extraordinary sight unfolded as the lead prosecutor in a landmark case against a former president for his attempts to undermine the 2020 presidential election found herself on the witness stand. She deftly handled intrusive inquiries about her personal life.

It was truly remarkable that she chose to testify, especially considering that Judge Scott McAfee may not have required it. Initially, Willis had objected to efforts to compel her testimony and even urged McAfee to scuttle a subpoena. However, as one of her deputies was objecting to her being forced to testify, Willis herself entered the courtroom and expressed her desire to take the stand.

Willis’ decision highlighted the high stakes involved in the fight. If McAfee were to remove her from the prosecution, it would result in the disqualification of her entire office. This would not only cause significant disruption to the case but could potentially derail it completely.

Willis’ testimony was interrupted on Thursday when the hearing came to an end. She is expected to resume her testimony on Friday morning.

Throughout her testimony, she passionately defended her prosecution of Trump and his allies while accusing her adversaries of undermining democracy. She also shared personal anecdotes about her relationship history, vacations, and preference for using cash for major expenses.

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Willis shared her experiences of traveling extensively in 2021, a year that held special significance for her as she turned 50. She also revealed her preference for Grey Goose vodka over wine. Furthermore, Willis mentioned her father’s advice to always keep a substantial amount of cash at home. She even mentioned reimbursing Wade in cash for their travel expenses.

“I would never treat my friends that way,” she stated firmly. “If you assure me that it’s a legitimate purchase, I will gladly refund you $1,000.”

In August 2023, she also shared her experience of breaking up with Wade, which happened around the same time she secured the grand jury racketeering indictment against Trump and 18 co-defendants. One of the reasons for their disagreement was Wade’s views about women.

During Willis’ testimony, there were several tense exchanges. At one point, she sternly told Merchant, “Don’t get cute with me.” When questioned by Trump lawyer Steve Sadow about her activities, Willis firmly stated, “You don’t have to yell at me. Please do not yell at me.”

Defense attorneys became increasingly frustrated with the district attorney’s impromptu remarks, leading McAfee to issue two warnings that he would strike certain parts of her testimony if she continued to deviate too much from the questions posed by the attorneys.

Willis took the witness stand after Wade, who had entered into a contract with Willis’ office in November 2021 to assist in the management of the Trump investigation as a special prosecutor. During his testimony, Wade faced a series of questions regarding the timeline of his romantic relationship with Willis and the funding of their vacations in 2022 and 2023.

Willis and Wade maintain that their romantic relationship started in 2022, after she had already hired him. They emphasize that their personal connection had no influence on her decision to hire him.

On Thursday, a new witness, Robin Yeartie, provided a contradictory account to the previous claim. Yeartie, who was once a close friend of Willis but later had a falling out, testified that she personally witnessed a romantic relationship between Willis and Wade as early as November 2019. According to Yeartie, she saw them kissing before Willis hired Wade on November 1, 2021.

During the trial, Yeartie’s testimony compelled McAfee to summon Wade to testify, despite Wade’s attempts to evade it. Wade stated that Willis, whom he described as an “independent, strong woman,” insisted on reimbursing him for her share of the trips they took together. He also affirmed that their romantic involvement did not commence until March 2022, several months after Wade became involved in the Trump investigation.

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During his testimony, Wade recounted his experiences of traveling alongside Willis to various destinations, including Aruba, Belize, and Napa Valley in 2022 and 2023. However, he admitted that he couldn’t remember if they had taken any trips together in 2021.

According to Trump’s co-defendant, David Shafer, he laughed out loud in the courtroom when he heard the assertion that Willis almost always reimbursed him in cash. The judge scolded Shafer for his reaction.

Wade stated that he did not disclose his personal relationship with his boss to others, but he emphasized that he was not attempting to conceal it.

“We value our privacy,” he stated. “Our relationship was never meant to be a secret, just something we preferred to keep private.”

The defense lawyers are accusing Wade of misleading McAfee and committing “fraud on the court.” They claim that Wade denied being in a relationship with Willis before joining the investigative team in a sworn affidavit earlier this month. Additionally, they have pointed out that Wade failed to include evidence of his relationship with Willis in his recent divorce proceedings with his wife of over twenty years.

During the hearing in an Atlanta courthouse, Wade and Willis faced probing questions about their personal lives. The livestreamed event, available on the court’s YouTube page and broadcasted on cable news, delved into intimate details such as the frequency of their phone conversations, the intricacies of Wade’s divorce proceedings, and the credit cards used for travel expenses with Willis.

According to Wade, he did not include his relationship with Willis in his divorce proceedings because the questions pertained to events that occurred during their marriage. In 2015, Wade considered their union to be “irretrievably broken.” However, in January, after defense lawyers attempted to disqualify him and Willis from the Trump case, Wade updated his divorce filings to assert a privilege aimed at safeguarding his privacy.

Dwyane Wade expressed his desire to keep his divorce proceedings separate from the ongoing case.

During her testimony, Yeartie became the first witness to publicly challenge the prosecutors’ assertion regarding the timeline of their relationship. Yeartie, who appeared via Zoom, shared that she first met Willis during their college years and they developed a strong friendship. This led to Willis subletting a condo from Yeartie in April 2021. As time went on, Yeartie joined Willis’ office, but due to internal conflicts, she resigned in 2022. Since then, Yeartie testified that she and Willis have not had any further communication.

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Yeartie observed interactions between Willis and Wade that included hugging, kissing, and other displays of affection. Willis also discussed their relationship with her.

The prosecution alleged that Yeartie may have had a personal vendetta against Willis due to Yeartie’s previous departure from the district attorney’s office.

Tension and animosity filled the courtroom during the hearing on Thursday.

During the commencement of the testimony, the prosecution vehemently criticized the attempt to disqualify Willis, Wade, and other individuals. Prosecutor Adam Abbate expressed his discontent, arguing that the defense was aiming to create a spectacle and harass Willis. He further accused the defense of spreading blatant falsehoods worldwide to manipulate the outcome of the case and impede its progress.

During her testimony, Wade explained that the monetary reimbursements she received from Willis were directly linked to the risks she encountered as a result of her high-profile status, specifically in relation to the Trump case.

Wade expressed that traveling with her is quite challenging due to the immense attention she receives. As a precautionary measure, she prefers to limit her interactions in order to ensure safety. Wade emphasized that there are no attempts to hide anything and that everything is transparent.

According to him, she is an incredibly self-sufficient and confident woman, and she always insists on taking responsibility for herself. He mentioned that this became a point of disagreement because she was extremely passionate and unwavering about her belief in being an independent and strong woman.

During the interview, Wade was questioned by Merchant about the details of his travels with Willis. Specifically, Merchant asked if Wade had made arrangements for a cabin in Tennessee.

“I’ve booked plenty of cabins,” Wade replied, but he was certain that he had never stayed in one with Willis.

He mentioned that he would go on day trips with Willis outside of their local area due to her public profile making it difficult to move around locally. Merchant inquired about their experience dining at the “Fainting Goat” in Jasper, Ga., and going on a cruise with Willis and his mother.

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