Fate of Fulton DA’s role in Trump case uncertain after testimony concludes

DA Willis’ father, Nathan Wade’s former law partner questioned

As she mapped out her strategy to disqualify Fani Willis from prosecuting Fulton County’s sweeping election interference case, defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant referred repeatedly to a witness whose testimony would prove the district attorney’s office wasn’t truthful.

Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee even referred to him as Merchant’s “star witness.”

But on Friday, Terrence Bradley took the stand and offered little to help. First, special prosecutor Nathan Wade’s former law partner was hours late to the hearing, leaving a roomful of prosecutors, attorneys and journalists waiting as he wrapped up a doctors appointment.

Then Bradley twisted as defense attorneys tried for upwards of an hour to get him to describe what he saw between Willis and Wade, a friend who he once represented in his divorce case. Bradley contended repeatedly that attorney-client privilege severely limited what he could say on the witness stand.

At the end of the eight-hour hearing came a bombshell allegation of sexual assault that put his credibility on the line. McAfee’s assessment of Bradly’s credibility – and his knowledge of the Willis-Wade relationship – may yet influence the judge’s decision on whether to disqualify the DA.

After two days of emotional, combative and detailed testimony, the evidentiary hearing over whether Willis committed misconduct wrapped up Friday.

But the fate of one of the most important criminal prosecutions in the country – the racketeering case involving former President Donald Trump – remains unclear.

Defense attorneys seeking to disqualify Willis and Wade from the case spent Thursday and Friday exploring their romantic relationship and probing alleged financial incentives for the couple to prosecute the case. Their efforts uncovered some testimony that contradicted Willis and Wade’s version of events. But they did not conclusively show that the prosecutors had misled the court about their relationship or that they undertook the case to enrich themselves.

McAfee did not decide Friday whether to remove Willis and the entire Fulton DA’s office from the case – a decision that could fundamentally undermine the case against Trump and 14 other remaining defendants. Instead, he agreed to review some evidence that will be submitted under seal and will schedule another hearing as soon as next Friday.

That leaves Willis, Wade, the defendants and the entire case in limbo for at least another week.

Contradictory timelines

The election interference case has been sidetracked since attorney Merchant sought to disqualify Willis in a Jan. 8 motion. Merchant accused Willis of hiring her boyfriend to oversee the prosecution in November 2021 and said she profited from the decision because Wade paid for trips the couple took to Aruba, Belize, Napa Valley and other locales.

In court documents and in the courtroom, Willis and Wade said they did not become romantically involved until months after she hired him. And they said they split their travel costs roughly equally. Merchant, in turn, accused the couple of providing false information about when their relationship began.

The defendants scored some victories in court this week.

On Thursday, Robin Bryant Yeartie, a former friend and colleague of Willis’, testified that the DA told her she and Wade were romantically involved before the DA hired him to oversee the election interference case in November 2021. Yeartie said she saw the couple hug, kiss and be affectionate as early as the end of 2019, just weeks after they met at a judicial conference.

That contradicted Willis and Wade’s contention that their romance began sometime between February and early April 2022. But Yeartie was also fired from the DA’s office, suggesting she might be biased.

Merchant, who represents defendant Michael Roman, also quizzed Wade Thursday on why he changed his answers to questions about his romantic life in his messy divorce case. In answers filed in 2021 through 2023, Wade said he had no relations with women besides his wife. But in January, after Merchant revealed his relationship with Willis, Wade amended his answers. Merchant said that was evidence that Wade was dishonest about his relationship in court documents filed in his divorce. (Wade said he believed his marriage ended in 2015, after he said his wife had an affair.)

Willis’ father takes the stand

But the district attorney’s office also scored some victories. In testimony Thursday, Willis and Wade told a largely consistent story: Their romantic relationship began in early 2022 and ended last summer. They split their travel expenses between them, with Willis often reimbursing Wade in cash.

Defense attorneys portrayed the cash reimbursements – which totaled thousands of dollars – as odd and unprovable. In her fiery testimony Thursday, Willis said she kept large amounts of cash at her home on the advice of her father.

If Thursday’s testimony featured contradictions and constant fireworks, Friday’s hearing was more stop-and-start, with constant skirmishes over attorney-client privilege and lines of questioning.

Willis’ father, John Clifford Floyd III, confirmed he advised Willis to keep large amounts of cash on hand, like he did himself. He said his distrust of credit cards and other means of paying came from personal experience – he recalled a restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., refusing to accept his American Express and credit cards and a personal check.

“It’s a Black thing,” Floyd testified Friday. “Most Black folks, they hide cash or they keep cash.”

“As a matter of fact, I gave my daughter her first cash box,” Floyd added.

Floyd also backed up the prosecutors’ timeline about their relationship. He said he didn’t meet Wade until 2023 and never saw him at the home he shared with Willis. In fact, he said he got to know another boyfriend Willis had in 2019, a government worker-slash disc jockey nicknamed “Deuce.”

Willis’ account of her hiring of Wade also got a boost Friday from former Gov. Roy Barnes, a prominent attorney and Democrat who’s close with Wade.

On Friday Barnes confirmed that Willis asked him to lead the Trump investigation in October 2021. Barnes turned down the job, saying he wanted to “make money” and expressing concerns about possible threats that could come with leading such a high-profile case.

“I’d lived with bodyguards for four years and I didn’t like it,” he said, referring to his time as governor. “I wasn’t going to live with bodyguards for the rest of my life.”

Barnes’ testimony was designed to undercut the idea that Willis had wanted to hire Wade because of their relationship.

Law partner’s credibility questioned

Attorneys spent much of Friday afternoon arguing about what Bradley could be questioned about under attorney-client privilege given his previous role as Wade’s attorney. And Bradley did not appear pleased to be there, asking a series of clarifying questions and often replying that he did not recall.

Defense attorneys spent an extended period trying to tease out additional information about a response he gave to Merchant. After Merchant sent Bradley her original court filing making the accusations formally, Bradley responded “sounds good.” Bradley said repeatedly he couldn’t expand on the matter because his response was informed by communications he had with Wade when he was a client, which he couldn’t share due to attorney-client privilege.

Earlier in the afternoon, Bradley testified that he left his law firm with Wade due to a reason that fell under attorney-client privilege. But his story changed while under cross-examination from special prosecutor Anna Cross, when he acknowledged departing the firm after being accused of sexual assault by a coworker.

“He lied,” Cross said.

Bradley insisted he didn’t assault anyone. Still, the development prompted McAfee to state that he had questions about Bradley’s credibility and interpretations of the law.

“Now I’m left wondering if Mr. Bradley has been properly interpreting privilege this entire time,” the judge said.

McAfee said he would hold a private review of confidential material and then make a determination about whether any additional evidence could be considered.

After Bradley acknowledged the sexual assault allegation -- as well as money paid the accuser he head left in an escrow account -- prosecutors attempted to call as a witness a onetime client of his law firm they said he assaulted. (Bradley earlier said he did not recall that person.) They also briefly questioned a former coworker who was about to describe a night out with Bradley in which he witnessed him assault a co-worker but McAfee shut down questioning for each, saying they were inadmissible because the issue was collateral.

Staff writers Rosie Manins and Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.