Trump lawyer: Fulton DA allegations ‘salacious and scandalous’

While Donald Trump has been busy trumpeting news of an alleged scandal in the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, his lawyer on Friday sounded a more cautious note.

“Suffice it to say that they are salacious and scandalous in nature,” Steve Sadow said, referring to claims that emerged in a court filing this week of an improper relationship between DA Fani Willis and a top aide.

But at a hearing Friday, Sadow said he needs to hear more before signing onto the explosive motion filed by Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for one the 15 remaining defendants in Fulton County’s election subversion case.

Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor who is at the center of the controversy, sat quietly at the DA’s table with his arms crossed as he listened to Sadow. Willis didn’t attend the hearing, which marked the first time Fulton prosecutors appeared in public since the allegations emerged.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said he plans to schedule a hearing in the weeks ahead to delve into the claims but would wait until after prosecutors respond in writing to the motion filed by Michael Roman, a former Trump campaign operative, before setting a hearing.

“As for the date of a hearing, we have to work around the other trial calendars in this docket,” said McAfee, adding that early to mid-February would likely be the soonest. “So I would imagine if there’s going to be a response it would be before that time.”

The exchange came at the tail end of a more than two-hour-long procedural hearing about more than a half-dozen pending pretrial motions in the case. But hanging over the proceedings were Merchant’s allegations.

On Monday, without offering concrete evidence, Merchant alleged that Willis improperly hired Wade, who was her romantic partner, as special prosecutor for the Trump case. Merchant claimed that Willis also financially benefited from her relationship with Wade when he paid for lavish vacations with her using the county funds his law firms received.

Roman is charged with seven felony counts in Fulton’s racketeering case.

Sadow said he wanted an opportunity to review Willis’ response before deciding whether to join Roman’s motion to dismiss the charges against him and for the Fulton DA’s office to be disqualified from further prosecution of the case.

“I’m leery of moving to adopt motions that make such allegations without having a better understanding or substantiation of the allegations,” said Sadow, noting that Roman’s motion marked the first in which allegations in fact were made about prosecutors.

Craig Gillen, an attorney representing co-defendant David Shafer, said he’s conducting his own investigation to “determine whether or not we’re going to adopt that motion or supplement that motion.”

Wade smiled politely as he entered the courtroom through a back entrance, and largely allowed his colleagues to take the lead with arguments.

Neither he nor any of his colleagues addressed the allegations. (A spokesman for Willis has said she will respond in an upcoming court filing, though the timing is unclear.)

January 6 dealings

During the hearing, prosecutors confirmed for the first time that they met with staff members for the U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee, which investigated Trump’s actions leading up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Wade said he and Chief Senior DA Donald Wakeford traveled to Washington and met with aides to committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., but that one of the ground rules was that prosecutors were not allowed to photocopy any documents.

Sadow has been seeking any material the Jan. 6 panel may have shared with prosecutors which the Fulton DA might not have given defendants as part of the discovery process.

Wade said there were no notes taken by his team that included information that wasn’t ultimately released publicly by the committee — or handed over to defense attorneys.

Republicans in recent days have sought to frame the Fulton case as politically tainted, pointing to meetings Wade had with the committee and members of the White House Counsel’s office to argue prosecutors were biased.

Trump isn’t the only one seeking information on prosecutors’ contacts with federal officials.

On Friday, defendant Jeffrey Clark filed a motion seeking to compel Willis’ office to turn over all communication with any agency or office of the U.S. government. The motion said the information could support “an argument that the prosecution of this case is tainted with partisan political objectives coordinated with, suggested or directed by the White House.”

Trump is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination – setting up a likely rematch with Democrat Joe Biden.

“The political benefit of this prosecution to President Biden and his political party are obvious and a current fact of political life,” the motion said. “The records show clear and obvious collaboration between the state and the January 6 Committee and the Biden White House. The political animus of that committee and the Biden White House toward President Trump and Mr. Clark is open, obvious and undeniable.”

Clark’s motion acknowledged there “may be legitimate non-political reasons for such consultations.,” but said the information could still benefit his defense.