Attorneys made their final arguments Friday on whether District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from Fulton County’s election interference case, a decision that would derail the prosecution of former President Donald Trump as he mounts a second bid for the White House.

Defense lawyers argued Willis’ romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade had given her a financial interest in prosecuting Trump and the other 14 remaining defendants. They also said Willis and Wade had lied about their relationship and had irreparably damaged their credibility.

Defense attorney John Merchant said Willis hired Wade as “part of the scheme she created intentionally in order to give benefits to her boyfriend.”

“She put her boyfriend in the spot, paid him and then reaped the benefits,” Merchant said. “They did this. ... They knew it was wrong. They hid it.”

Prosecutor Adam Abbate argued the defendants had not proved Willis has a conflict of interest that justifies removing her from the case. He said the defendants had simply shared speculation and gossip about Willis and Wade in an effort to stymie the case.

“It’s a desperate attempt to remove a prosecutor from the case with absolutely no reason, other than harassment,” Abbate said.

One key disagreement could prove critical to the outcome: Defense lawyers insisted Willis could be removed if there was simply an appearance of a conflict of interest while prosecutors said there must be an actual conflict, a higher bar which they said the defense had failed to clear.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said he’ll “be taking the time to make sure that I give this case the full consideration it’s due” and would likely rule within the next two weeks.

The three-plus hours of arguments capped an extraordinary two months that have sidetracked one of the most important criminal cases in the country. The Georgia case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump is facing.

For six months, Willis and her prosecutors appeared fully in control of the case, which alleged Trump and 18 others had tried to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia. They secured guilty pleas and pledges of cooperation from four defendants. They fended off a slew of motions to have the case removed to federal court, where the defendants might get a more sympathetic jury drawn from across north Georgia. And they pursued an aggressive schedule to try the case next August. – before Trump likely stands for election as the Republican nominee for president.

But that changed on Jan. 8, when Merchant’s wife and law partner, Ashleigh, filed a motion to disqualify Willis, citing an allegedly improper romantic relationship with Wade that Merchant argued had created a conflict of interest. Willis benefited financially when Wade paid for trips to Aruba, Napa Valley and other locales with the money he had earned, she said.

Willis and Wade responded that they were not romantically involved when she hired him to oversee the case in November 2021 and said that hey split their travel expenses roughly equally, with Willis largely reimbursing Wade in cash for some expenses and paid for activities such as wine tastings when they traveled.

In recent weeks, defense lawyers have accused Willis and Wade of lying to the court about the details of their relationship, which they have denied.

‘Fraud on this court’

Friday’s hearing gave both sides a chance to drive home their best arguments.

Craig Gillen, an attorney for former state GOP chair David Shafer, said it came down to credibility.

Wade’s and Willis’ testimony that the DA reimbursed Wade in cash cannot be believed, he said. He argued that the two prosecutors are asking the court to “just please trust us and believe us, because it’s our only way out of the trap they set for themselves.”

”What we have here is a fraud on this court,” Gillen said. " Prosecutors don’t act like this. ... They need to go.”

But Abbate, arguing for the DA, said that it was a pair of defense witnesses who were untrustworthy -former Willis friend and employee Robin Bryant Yeartie and Terrence Bradley, Wade’s onetime law partner and divorce attorney.

Abbate called Yeartie — who testified that Wade and Willis were dating as far back as 2019 — a “disgruntled former employee” who had an axe to grind and gave vague answers on the witness stand to leading questions from defense attorneys.

Bradley, he said, was “disgruntled” because he left his law firm with Wade due to sexual assault allegations, and had “every motive to lie” while testifying. On the stand, Bradley said he didn’t know when the relationship between Wade and Willis began but in texts he said it was earlier than they have claimed.

”All Mr. Bradley’s representations as it relates to when the relationship began and whether they cohabitated … was mere speculation gossip,” he said.

‘The rich and famous’

Attorney Richard Rice, who represents defendant Bob Cheeley, reiterated that both Willis and Wade financially benefited from the Trump prosecution.

“In this case, Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis basically lived Robin Leach’s ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ and they did this riding on the backs of the defendants,” Rice said.

Abbate scoffed at that. He received a chuckle from the room when he noted that Willis stayed at the DoubleTree hotel while visiting Napa Valley, not a higher end hotel like the Ritz-Carlton.

”The allegations and assertions that Miss Willis was living the lifestyle of the rich and the famous is a joke,” he said.

If the DA was trying to cash in, why would she ask for McAfee to schedule a trial date as soon as possible, he asked. Similarly, why wouldn’t she have appointed Wade to larger cases in the office or indicted all 39 people the special grand jury recommended, he asked

“There is no evidence of a financial benefit that she gained as it results to he prosecution of this case and the ultimate outcome of this case,” Abbate said.

Cell phone records

McAfee on Friday declined to decide on whether records from Wade’s cell phones submitted by Trump’s legal team should be admitted into the record.

But that didn’t prevent them from coming up.

Rice contended the sheer volume of Willis’ and Wade’s communications in the first 11 months of 2021 - more than 2,000 calls and nearly 10,000 text messages, according to records obtained through a subpoena to AT&T - indicates their romantic relationship began before Wade’s appointment in November 2021.

“I don’t even think love-struck teenagers communicate that much,” Rice said.

An analysis conducted by an investigator with Trump’s legal team found that Wade’s phone had made nearly three dozen visits to Willis’ Hapeville neighborhood in 2021, two of them where it arrived late at night and left in the predawn hours. Defense attorneys said that bolstered their claim that Willis and Wade had not been truthful about when their romance began.

But Abbate described the records as misleading.

Willis and Wade had each testified that he visited the condo. As for the late night visits, “the specific hours of their visits was not something that was pursued” during questioning, he said.

Some of the records appeared to show Wade visiting the area when Willis wasn’t there, he said. It was not uncommon for Wade to be in the Hapeville area before Willis moved there, he said, noting that Wade’s cellphone connected to towers in the Hapeville area 23 times in the first three months of 2021, while Willis was still living in South Fulton.

He said that Wade was in the Hapeville area on at least eight occasions during the later months in 2021, when Willis was not there at the same time.

‘Race and religion’

In addition to arguing Willis had a financial interest in the case, the defense attorneys accused Willis of misconduct for her comments at a historic Black church in January. The DA suggested critics had questioned Wade’s qualification for the job because he is Black.

“She chose to pull out the race card and the God card,” he said.

“She chose to inject race into the minds of the listeners and virtually everybody in this community,” including people who could serve as jurors down the line, Gillen said.

Trump attorney Steve Sadow agreed.

“It was a calculated determination by Ms. Willis to prejudice the defendants and their counsel,” Sadow said.

“Can you think of anything more than would heighten public condemnation of the defendants than alleging that defense counsel and the defendants were making their motion based on race and religion? That’s as bad as it gets in Fulton County.”

Abbate argued Willis was not referring to the defendants in her remarks at the church. Instead, he said she was referring to politicians such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and County Commissioner Bridget Thorne, who have criticized Willis.

Abbate also argued Willis did not comment on the guilt or innocence of the defendants in the case.

In a short but forceful rebuttal to Abbate, Sadow posed a question.

“Whose motive in this case is the strongest?” he asked. “Fani Willis. Nathan Wade.”

Because if they had testified truthfully that the relationship started before November 2021, they get disqualified, he said.

“Who has the best motive of anyone to lie?” Sadow asked again. “They do. Who has the most at stake to lie? They do. Who wants to stay on this case for whatever the financial reason may be? They do.”

If the judge disqualifies Willis, it would be up to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to find another prosecutor to take on the case.

Staff writers Rosie Manins and Alexis Stevens contributed to this report