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‘I’m not on trial’: Trump election case takes dramatic turn

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“I’m not on trial,” Fani Willis declared. “These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020.”
Those words, stated pointedly from the witness stand, encapsulated the remarkable scene that unfolded Thursday in the criminal case against

Donald Trump

for trying to overturn the

2020 election

in the Georgia criminal case.
In a stunning role reversal, Willis – the Fulton County district attorney who charged Trump and 18 others with racketeering and other crimes – was herself called to testify inside an Atlanta courtroom.

For roughly two hours, Willis then fought for her professional reputation and the historic case she brought against the former president seeking a return to the White House.

Willis, wearing pearls and a pink dress, was by turns combative and sympathetic. She accused the defense of trying to dig up salacious details about her personal life to thwart a case that strikes at the very heart of American democracy. Indeed, Thursday’s hearing wasn’t intended to address the central allegation that Trump engaged in a plot to subvert the election in Georgia. Rather, it focused on claims of misconduct by Willis and the lead prosecutor she hired, Nathan Wade.

The dramatic hearing painted an intimate portrait of Willis and Wade, with captivating details of their romance and varying accounts of its duration. He likes wine, while she prefers Grey Goose vodka. They went on a cruise with his mother. The affair ended sometime in 2023.
But the allegations from defendant Michael Roman, who was joined by Trump and others facing prosecution, were that she had benefited financially from the relationship. Wade, a private attorney, was paid $650,000 in taxpayer money for his work on the case over the last two years. At one point, Willis held up Roman’s court filings that started the intrusion into her life and raised her voice.
“It’s a lie,” she said. “It is a lie.”
The judge then paused the hearing — which was streamed live on YouTube — for a break.
High stakes
The stakes are high. If Willis is disqualified – the defense argues her relationship with Wade has created an insurmountable conflict of interest – a new prosecutor in all likelihood would have to start over again, almost certainly pushing the case past the November election.
Willis returns to the witness stand on Friday when she will be questioned by an attorney on behalf of her office to try to repair any damage from Thursday’s proceedings. The evidentiary hearing will continue with Willis’s father and other witnesses.
Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said he doesn’t expect to decide the fate of Willis and Wade on Friday. He has not set a trial date yet for Trump, who faces three other criminal cases.
Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee, could hardly have hoped for more.
The same morning, some 750 miles north, Trump sat defiantly in a New York courtroom, in another criminal case. A judge rejected his bid to throw out charges against him over hush-money payments to a porn star.
But in Atlanta, a perilous racketeering case against the former president was abruptly transformed into a tabloid moment with few parallels in US history.
No hand holder
Trump attorney Steve Sadow questioned Willis closely about where she spent her nights. He said a romantic relationship doesn’t have to be about sex, it may also involve dating and holding hands.
“I’m not a hand holder,” Willis shot back.
The defense delved relentlessly into personal trips that Willis and Wade took together to Aruba, the Bahamas and Belize.
Willis was asked again and again to account for who paid for what (in some cases, she said, she reimbursed Wade with cash she’d kept in her home.)
She said her father told her that “you should always have six months of cash at all times.” She continued, “If you’re a woman and you go on a date with a man, you better have $200 in your pocket.”
At one point, Willis mentioned that Wade used not one but two travel agents, a “regular” one and a “cruise” one. At the center of it all were dueling accounts of when their romantic relationship began and ended.
During the morning session, a former friend of Willis’s testified that the DA and Wade began dating in 2019, that is, even before the 2020 presidential election. The witness said she’d seen the two hugging and kissing.
Then Wade took the stand. He testified that his relationship with Willis began in 2022.
Finally, after a recess, it was Willis’s turn. She, too, said she started dating Wade in 2022.
Three Trump co-defendants attended the hearing, including Trevian Kutti, a former Kanye West publicist who likes the way McAfee is handling the case.
“Everything plays out exactly as it should, and I just wanted to be here to witness it,” Kutti said. “I’m here waiting and paying attention. I think he’s an amazing judge.”
By the time the hearing was over, Trump’s election-interference case in Georgia appeared to be about anything but election fraud.

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