Meet Mike Roman, the man trying to bring down Fani Willis

Mike Roman, who worked for the Trump 2020 campaign as director of election day operations, was charged with Violation of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act and other felonies by a Fulton County grand jury.

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

Mike Roman, who worked for the Trump 2020 campaign as director of election day operations, was charged with Violation of the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act and other felonies by a Fulton County grand jury.

For months, Mike Roman seemed forgotten among the 19 people charged in Fulton County with interfering in the 2020 presidential election.

Some defendants were household names. Others drew attention to themselves. Roman was almost an afterthought – a special grand jury that investigated events surrounding the election didn’t even recommend him for prosecution.

But last month Roman rocketed to prominence when his lawyer accused District Attorney Fani Willis of having an improper romantic relationship with a subordinate and benefiting financially from the case. Willis has denied she did anything inappropriate. But Roman’s effort to disqualify has upended what is one of the most important and closely watched cases in the country.

A hearing on the matter is set for Feb. 15.

Here’s a look at the man trying to disqualify Willis and upend the election interference case.

A focus on election integrity

Roman, 52, is a longtime Republican political operative who grew up in Philadelphia and got his start in Pennsylvania politics. He has a history of questioning the integrity of elections.

According to the Associated Press, Roman gathered claims of voting fraud in a 1993 Pennsylvania state senate race that led a federal judge to toss hundreds of ballots, resulting in a victory for the Republican candidate.

In 2008, Roman gained national attention by promoting a video of two members of the New Black Panther party standing outside a polling place in Philadelphia. One of them held a billy club.

The AP reported no violence occurred, but conservative media hyped the video as evidence of Democratic voter intimidation. Critics on the left called it an attempt to stoke racial divisions during the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president.

Roman later investigated Democrats, environmental activists and others for a political network led by Republican donors Charles and David Koch. In 2016 he joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and later joined the Trump White House.

At the White House, Roman vetted political nominees and administration employees before rejoining the Trump campaign in 2019, according to congressional testimony. During the campaign, he was director of election-day operations and coordinated with state campaign operatives.

False fraud allegations

During the 2020 campaign, Roman echoed Trump’s claims of voting fraud. In July of that year, he tweeted that Democrat Joe Biden and others were recruiting “goons to steal the election.”

Investigators from the U.S. House January 6 Committee asked Roman whether he had evidence of widespread fraud that had affected the outcome of the election. He declined to answer, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Numerous investigations have found no such fraud.

Evidence obtained by congressional investigators shows Roman participated in a key aspect of Trump’s effort to overturn Biden’s victory. He allegedly helped organize the Republican electors who met to cast their ballots for Trump in Georgia and other states Biden won.

The Trump campaign sought to have state legislators and, later, Vice President Mike Pence recognize the Trump electors as each state’s official delegation. That effort continued through Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol to stop congressional certification of Biden’s victory.

Roman declined to answer congressional investigators’ questions about his activities. The investigators concluded he played a “major operational role” in the alleged electors scheme. Among other things, he and his staff tracked which of the original Trump electors had agreed to participate and which ones had to be replaced, according to a report by the congressional committee.

Intensely private

Roman has revealed little about his personal life. He has eight children, according to his lawyer, Asheigh Merchant. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported he dropped out of the University of Miami for financial reasons.

He’s been described as a devout Roman Catholic with a blue collar background.

When he was booked at the Fulton County Jail, he listed himself as “single.” Adrienne McCallister described Roman as her “live-in boyfriend” and father of her children when she filed multiple bankruptcy petitions claiming to owe tens of thousands of dollars in debt, according to The Washington Post.

Seven felony charges

In August. Fulton prosecutors charged Roman with seven felony counts stemming from his role in the alleged electors scheme, which included submitting what prosecutors say were false electors certificates to state and federal authorities. The charges included racketeering, conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer, conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit filing false documents and conspiracy to commit false statements and writings.

The indictment said Roman was included on emails from lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, one of the architects of getting Republican slates of electors to cast Electoral College votes for Trump in Georgia and other swing states won by Biden.

Two days before the Dec. 14, 2020, Electoral College vote, Roman sent an email saying, “I need a tracker for the electors,” the indictment said. The email was sent to two unnamed people who the charging document identified as unindicted co-conspirators.

He also instructed people associated with the Trump campaign to populate entries on a shared spreadsheet listing GOP presidential electors in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the indictment said.

That same day, a co-conspirator who has been identified as Georgia campaign operative Robert Sinners sent a text message to Roman with contact information for co-conspirator 8, who is believed to be then-state Sen. Burt Jones, now Georgia’s lieutenant governor, and for Sen. Brandon Beach. This was done to so the senators’ contact information could be given to then-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Jones later became a GOP elector who cast a vote for Trump.

Sinners reported to Roman and others when the Trump electors had cast their ballots: “All votes cast, paperwork complete, being mailed now. Ran pretty smoothly,” according to an email released by congressional investigators.

No plea deal

After being charged, Roman pleaded not guilty. Merchant, said that in the weeks after the indictment was handed up, the DA’s office offered Roman the chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor offense of reckless conduct with a sentence of probation. But he turned it down.

“He said he’s innocent and he’s not going to plead guilty to something he didn’t do,” Merchant said.

She also downplayed the evidence against her client.

“The allegations against him are that he had someone create a tracker – a Google spreadsheet – of the electors in order to keep track of who was remaining an elector and who needed to be replaced,” Merchant said. “And he was added on the copy line to some emails, but this was after the original emails had been circulating.”

“He’s not some fancy lawyer or politician who’s been charged in this case,” she said. “He’s someone who’s told by lawyers and senior officials to do his job and he goes and gets it done.”

Fallout to be determined

Roman’s motion, filed Jan. 8, seeks to dismiss the charges against him and to disqualify Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade from prosecuting the case. It accused Willis and Wade of being romantically involved and benefiting financially from the prosecution.

Bank records released through Wade’s messy divorce show he bought plane tickets for trips with Willis to San Francisco and Miami.

In a response last week, Willis and Wade admitted to a “personal relationship” that began after Willis appointed him to oversee the prosecution. Willis denied benefiting financially from the prosecution. Wade said they split travel costs roughly evenly and Willis has not received any of the more than $728,000 he’s been paid for his work.

In a subsequent court filing, Merchant implied the Willis-Wade relationship predates his hiring.

It will be up to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to sort through the competing claims and determine if Willis and Wade should be disqualified. Legal observers say Willis’ disqualification could lead to substantial delays.

In the meantime, Merchant said Roman has lost political consulting work and is trying to shelter his eight children from publicity about his case.

“His children have had to see daddy’s mugshot and hear him be accused of plotting to overthrow the government.,” Merchant said. “It’s been awful.”

She added, “He’s a working-class guy who grew up in Philadelphia. He’s good at election mobilization and being an Election Day coordinator. It’s his work on this that linked him to this case, but it doesn’t mean he committed the crime.”