HAPPENING TODAY: First Trump 19 hearing since bombshell allegations

It's unclear whether District Attorney Fani Willis (center) or Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade (right) will appear at a court hearing today in the Donald Trump election case in Fulton County. It's the first hearing since one defendant alleged the pair have had an inappropriate personal relationship. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

It's unclear whether District Attorney Fani Willis (center) or Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade (right) will appear at a court hearing today in the Donald Trump election case in Fulton County. It's the first hearing since one defendant alleged the pair have had an inappropriate personal relationship. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

A hearing this afternoon in Fulton Superior Court will focus on more than a half-dozen pending procedural motions in the Donald Trump election interference case.

But it will be closely watched for another reason: it marks the first time Fulton County prosecutors will appear in public since Monday’s bombshell allegations that District Attorney Fani Willis improperly hired a romantic partner as special prosecutor and financially benefited from their relationship.

The claims, from defendant and former Trump campaign operative Mike Roman, were not substantiated and Judge Scott McAfee, who oversees the case, is not scheduled to address them today. (McAfee will ultimately decide whether to take any other action against Willis or the case.)

The 1 p.m. hearing, which will be live-streamed on McAfee’s YouTube page, will undoubtedly be closely scrutinized for any reference to the salacious claims. Willis and the case’s special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, have yet to respond to the allegations — a spokesman has said the office will address them in an upcoming court filing but the timing is unclear.

The claims have energized Republican critics of the case, who in recent days have sought to connect it to the Biden White House and the congressional Jan. 6 committee.

It is unclear whether Willis or Wade will attend, though Wade has taken part in virtually every hearing in the case so far. Willis, meanwhile, is scheduled to deliver remarks at Sunday’s Martin Luther King Day service at Atlanta’s historic Big Bethel AME Church.

Here is what else we’re watching for during Friday’s hearing:

Trump’s search for Jan. 6 committee correspondence

On the agenda is a request from Trump’s Atlanta attorneys seeking to compel prosecutors to produce correspondence with the chair of the House committee that investigated the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In a December 2021 letter, Willis asked Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chaired the House Jan. 6 Committee, for access to “records that may be relevant to our criminal investigation.” Trump’s attorneys recently sought a copy of any response from Thompson.

The former president’s Atlanta legal team also wants access to lists of evidence disclosed to other Trump attorneys in the separate federal election interference case in Washington and, in a twist, has asked Fulton prosecutors for help obtaining the material.

Additionally, they are asking for McAfee to compel Willis’ office to disclose the testimony of two former Justice Department officials who testified by video before the special grand jury that aided prosecutors in 2022.

Kutti to appear in court

Defendant Trevian Kutti is expected in court Friday for the first time since she made what could be seen as threatening comments about a witness in the case.

Kutti is charged with three felony counts for her alleged role in harassing former Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman. Trump and his campaign falsely accused Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, of voting fraud. The pair recently won a $148 million defamation judgment against Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani for spreading the false allegations.

Trevian Kutti was charged with racketeering and other felonies along with former President Donald Trump by a Fulton County grand jury.

Credit: AJC File/Fulton County Jail

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Credit: AJC File/Fulton County Jail

Kutti appeared to refer to Freeman during a recent Instagram Live video fundraiser for her legal defense. Among other things, she said “there’s a woman sitting somewhere who knows that I’m going to (expletive) her whole life up when this is done.”

Legal experts say those comments could violate the terms of her bond, which prohibits witness intimidation.

Prosecutors have not filed a motion to revoke Kutti’s bond. But about two weeks after her comments gained attention, Kutti’s attorneys filed a motion to withdraw from the case. They did not cite a reason.

McAfee will hear that motion today and has required Kutti to be present. Phil Holloway, a WSB Radio legal analyst and defense attorney unaffiliated with the case, said the judge will need to hear from Kutti “as to whether she consents to the withdrawal. And what her plan is to retain new counsel.”

Giuliani wants to interview cooperating witnesses

Defendant Rudy Giuliani wants McAfee’s permission to interview four former defendants who have already pleaded guilty in the case and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Under the terms of their plea agreements, the witnesses — Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis, Scott Hall and Sidney Powell — are not permitted to communicate with any co-defendants about the facts of the case.

In a motion filed Monday, Giuliani’s attorneys cited a state law permitting the judge to allow defendants to interview witnesses. They argued they will be “unable to properly investigate the facts of this case or properly advise” Giuliani about the potential evidence against him without interviewing the four witnesses.

Giuliani might be especially interested in interviewing Ellis and Powell. Ellis worked closely with him in the weeks following the 2020 elections, traveling to states like Georgia to deliver false testimony to state legislators.

Powell also worked with Giuliani to aid Trump’s effort to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. She could have plenty to say about his activities – including whether he played a role in the Coffee County election system breach.

Racketeering charge nullification

Also on the agenda are some leftover motions from December that argue that Fulton prosecutors inappropriately brought racketeering charges against the case’s remaining 15 defendants.

Among the arguments attorneys are making: that prosecutors didn’t sufficiently prove the existence of a criminal enterprise as required under the state’s RICO law and that the DA is seeking to punish protected political speech under the First Amendment.

Some legal experts previously interviewed by the AJC said that defense attorneys may be invoking some of these issues now so they can appeal any unfavorable rulings before a trial begins. No trial date has been set.