ATLANTA (AP) — Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is accusing the estranged wife of a special prosecutor she hired of trying to obstruct her criminal election-interference case against former President Donald Trump and others by seeking to question her in the couple's divorce proceedings.
A motion filed last week by a defense attorney in the election case alleges that Willis was involved in a romantic relationship with attorney Nathan Wade. A lawyer for Willis wrote in a filing Thursday that lawyers for Wade's wife, Joycelyn Wade, served a subpoena to the district attorney last week.
The filing says that the subpoena is being sought “in an attempt to harass and damage” Willis’ professional reputation and accuses Joycelyn Wade of having “conspired with interested parties in the criminal Election Interference Case to use the civil discovery process to annoy, embarrass, and oppress” the district attorney.
The attempt to question Willis is "obstructing and interfering” with an ongoing criminal case, lawyer Cinque Axam wrote in the court filing Thursday seeking to quash the subpoena.
Andrea Hastings, a lawyer for Joycelyn Wade, said they want to help her “resolve her divorce fairly and privately” and that any response to Willis' motion will come in a filing with the court.
Willis was served with the subpoena the same day that defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who represents former Trump campaign staffer and onetime White House aide Michael Roman, filed a motion alleging an inappropriate relationship between Willis and Nathan Wade. She asserted that their alleged actions created a conflict of interest and led to Willis profiting personally from the prosecution. The motion seeks to have the indictment thrown out and to have Willis and Wade removed from the case.
Willis’ office has said they will respond to Merchant’s motion in a court filing but have not provided a timeline for that. Her filing on Thursday in the divorce case does not address whether she and Wade have been romantically involved.
The district attorney's lawyer wrote that Nathan and Joycelyn Wade have been separated for more than two years and are involved in “an uncontested no-fault divorce” and there is an “absence of any relevant basis” to question Willis.
Merchant has not provided any solid proof to support her allegations of an inappropriate relationship. She mentioned “sources close” to Willis and Wade without elaborating.
Merchant’s motion also mentions that filings in Wade’s pending divorce are sealed but that she has filed a motion to unseal them. A coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a motion Tuesday to gain access to those filings.
“Ms. Willis alleges that her deposition is being sought in an attempt to harass and damage her professional reputation. Why would her truthful testimony risk damaging her reputation?” Merchant wrote in an email Thursday.
She accused Willis of trying “to create a conspiracy where none exists,” noting that she filed her motion on the deadline for pretrial motions in the election case.
"We believe her filing in Cobb County is just another attempt to avoid having to directly answer the important questions Mr. Roman has raised," Merchant wrote.
Merchant wrote in her motion last week that Wade has been paid large sums and has used some of his earnings to take Willis on vacation to Napa Valley, Florida and the Caribbean. She said that amounts to the pair “profiting significantly from this prosecution at the expense of the taxpayers.”
Merchant said she can find no evidence that Wade — whose law firm website touts his experience in civil litigation, including car accident and family law cases — has ever prosecuted a felony case. She questioned his qualifications to try this case.
Willis defended her hiring of Wade and his qualifications during an address at a church in Atlanta on Sunday but has not commented publicly on the allegation of a romantic relationship. Among other things, she cited Wade’s 10 years of experience as a municipal court judge and 20 years in private practice.
“Because the parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the concept of fault is not at issue, there is no information that District Attorney Willis could provide that might prove relevant to granting or denying the divorce,” the filing says.
Also Thursday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee set a Feb. 15 hearing on Merchant's motion and ordered prosecutors to file their response by Feb. 2.
Trump and Roman were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury in August along with 17 others. They’re accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to try to illegally overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Four of those charged have already pleaded guilty after reaching deals with prosecutors. Trump, Roman and the others who remain have pleaded not guilty.
Roman was the director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign and also had worked in the White House.
Prosecutors say he helped coordinate an effort to contact state lawmakers on Trump’s behalf to encourage them to “unlawfully appoint presidential electors.”
He is also alleged to have been involved in efforts to have Republicans in swing states that Trump lost, including Georgia, meet on Dec. 14, 2020, to sign certificates falsely saying Trump had won their states and that they were the electors for their states. He was in touch with local Republican officials in several states to set up those meetings.