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Fulton County DA Fani Willis defends special prosecutor following allegation of romantic relationship

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference at the Fulton County Government building, Aug. 14, 2023, in Atlanta. — Joe Raedle/Getty Images, FILE

(ATLANTA) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis spoke at a church in Atlanta Sunday morning where she gave emotional and passionate remarks that appeared to acknowledge for the first time the affair allegations leveled against her last week, while also defending the special prosecutor she brought in for the election interference case against Donald Trump.

“I hope for y’all this week I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” she joked as she spoke Sunday at the Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a service to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

One of former President Trump’s co-defendants in his Georgia election interference case is seeking to dismiss the indictment against him and disqualify DA Willis, alleging she “engaged in a personal, romantic relationship” with one of the top prosecutors she brought in to work on the case, which allegedly resulted in financial gain for both of them.

In the court filing Monday, former Trump campaign staff member Michael Roman accused Willis of having potentially committed “an act to defraud the public of honest services” based on her “intentional failure” to disclose the alleged relationship that she allegedly “personally benefitted from.”

The 127-page filing from Roman’s attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, alleged the prosecutor, Nathan Wade, has a “lack of relevant experience” but has been paid approximately $650,000 in legal fees since being appointed to the role — which the filing claims was a “self-serving arrangement.” Trump’s attorney said in court on Friday that they’re considering joining in the complaint against Willis.

During her remarks Sunday, which were livestreamed, Willis repeatedly referred to herself as “flawed” and “imperfect.”

Willis also said she was “a little confused” why so many questioned the decision to bring in multiple special prosecutors to the case, and though she never mentioned Wade by name, she called him a “great friend” who was paid equally to others while extensively defending his “impeccable credentials” for the job — suggesting the attacks on him were motivated by race.

“I appointed three special counselors. It’s my right to do. Paid them all the same hourly rate,” Willis said. “They only attack one. I hired one white woman: a good personal friend and great lawyer, a superstar, I tell you. I hired one white man: brilliant, my friend, and a great lawyer. And I hired one Black man, another superstar, a great friend, and a great lawyer.”

Willis never denied or directly addressed the allegations she and Wade had an inappropriate relationship. She continued to tout Wade’s résumé, saying he was paid more than double when hired by a Republican in another county, and that he “served as a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer, special assistant attorney general.”

“Isn’t it them playing the race card when they only question one?” she said.

Speaking for more than 30 minutes, Willis’ emotional speech Sunday detailed at length the difficulties she has faced in her position as Fulton County DA and prosecuting the Trump case. She spoke about feeling “isolation,” “loneliness,” “backstabbing” and facing constant death threats that have forced her out of her home.

“I am tired of being treated cruelly,” she said.

Willis read a letter she said she wrote to God this week in which she said felt “unworthy” of the job: “Lord, even right now, I continue to feel unworthy of the honor,” she said as she read the letter, while appearing to get choked up.

“A divorced single mom who doesn’t belong to the right social groups. Doesn’t necessarily come from the right family. Doesn’t have the right pedigree. The assignment was just too high for lowly me,” Willis said.

Speaking about threats against her, often fueled by race, she said she and her family members’ lives have been “threatened so regularly, I now think it’s not normal if I don’t have two death threats a week.”

“They call me the N-word more than they call me Fani,” she said, while noting that her home has been swept “multiple times for bombs.” She said she now spends “most days and nights” in isolation.

Willis also specifically called out Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“I never want to be like those who attack me. I never want to be like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has never met me but has allowed her spirit to be filled with hate,” she said.

Still, Willis touted the accomplishments of her team, saying they have “wins, wins, wins” and a 95% conviction rate.

“I thank you for every attack that makes me stronger,” she said.

Merchant is pushing back on Willis’ suggestion in church on Sunday that the allegations against her and the special prosecutor were motivated by race, saying, “This has nothing to do with the color of his skin.”

“If anybody doubts our claim that [Nathan] Wade is inexperienced, ask him how many RICO cases he has handled. Ask him how many felonies he has tried,” Merchant said to ABC News.

The difference between Wade and the other special prosecutors brought in to work on the case are the relationship allegations, according to Merchant.

“The biggest difference between Ms. Cross, Mr. Floyd and Mr. Wade is that Ms. Willis is not in a relationship with Ms. Cross and Mr. Floyd,” Merchant said. “And neither Ms. Cross nor Mr. Floyd have taken Ms. Willis to California, Florida or in cruises to the Caribbean.”

Merchant reiterated that she “would never file a motion that we did not have evidence to support.”

“If we need to prove the allegations in open court, we stand ready and welcome the chance,” she said.

Roman, Trump and 17 others pleaded not guilty in August to all charges in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. Defendants Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell, Jena Ellis and Scott Hall subsequently took plea deals in exchange for agreeing to testify against other defendants.

The former president has blasted the district attorney’s investigation as being politically motivated.

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