Who is Nathan Wade, Fulton special prosecutor in Trump case?

Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade, representing the District Attorney's office, argued before Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee who heard motions from attorneys representing Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023.   (AP photo/Jason Getz, Pool )

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade, representing the District Attorney's office, argued before Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee who heard motions from attorneys representing Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (AP photo/Jason Getz, Pool )

Editors’ note: A version of this story was first published in January 2024. It has been updated with recent developments in the election interference case.

As he left a judicial conference in October 2019, Nathan Wade stopped to speak to a friend. She was in conversation with a new judge for the city of South Fulton and introduced them. The new judge’s name was Fani Willis.

The meeting proved consequential.

More than four years later, Wade’s relationship with Willis has become a national sensation — fodder for countless cable news shows and heated social media posts — as it threatened to upend Fulton County’s election interference case against former President Donald Trump.

But before he became embroiled in the Fulton County fiasco, Wade was a municipal court judge with ambitions to move up the judicial ladder, an avid traveler and a lawyer known for his natty dressing.

Here’s what else to know about Wade:

He works in private practice

Wade is a defense attorney and onetime municipal court judge. His suburban Atlanta firm, Wade & Campbell, focuses on personal injury cases, contract litigation, family and domestic law and criminal defense.

A graduate of John Marshall law school in Atlanta, Wade served as an assistant solicitor for Cobb County in 1999. The solicitor general’s office handles misdemeanor cases. He became Marietta’s first Black male judge in 2011 and held the post for a decade. Wade also made several unsuccessful runs for judgeships on the Cobb County Superior Court.

In 2020, Wade’s firm was retained by then-Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren to review complaints of use of force, racial biases, discrimination and neglect at the county jail after seven detainees had died in custody. Three months later, an Atlanta television station sued Warren, accusing him of manufacturing a fake investigation to circumvent open records laws. Wade defended his work. A judge later ordered the sheriff to release the records.

He’s been an informal adviser to Willis for years

Wade became a mentor to Willis after she was elected as a judge for the suburb of South Fulton in 2019. He served on Willis’ transition team as she prepared to take office as DA and sat in as Willis re-interviewed every employee in the office for their job. Wade was later tapped to lead the election probe.

Quiet in public, a key player behind the scenes

Wade led prosecutors’ presentation to the special grand jury that spent nearly eight months in 2022 collecting evidence and hearing witness testimony in the Trump case. Multiple special grand jurors previously interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gave Wade high marks for his work — and personal style. He has a penchant for bold suits and ascots — he owns about 20. He’s also been spotted with his name embroidered on his shirt cuff.

Over the course of the investigation, Wade has questioned witnesses, signed subpoenas and negotiated immunity deals. He also helped present the case to the grand jury that ultimately handed up the indictments against Trump and 18 others in August.

In court, Wade has largely let his deputies take the lead during arguments before Judge Scott McAfee, but when he does speak he comes off as soft-spoken. Defense attorneys, however, have complained about Wade’s hard-nosed tactics behind closed doors. (One lawyer representing more than a half-dozen Trump electors whom prosecutors had briefly tried to disqualify accused Wade of misleading and intimidating her clients after they accepted immunity deals.)

He’s one of the highest-paid prosecutors in Georgia

The Fulton County District Attorney’s office has paid Wade’s law offices more than $728,000 since January 2022, according to county records. Wade is the Fulton DA’s office’s highest-paid contract attorney and is likely the highest paid prosecutor in the state. (By comparison, Willis earns roughly $200,000 a year.)

But on the witness stand, Wade explained that he has split his compensation with his law partners. (He had two partners when his work on the case began but that later changed to one.)

The county post also pays $250 an hour. That’s well below what successful attorneys in private practice earn but more than the average assistant district attorneys make. His pay was also subject to a monthly cap, which meant he sometimes worked more hours than he was paid for.

Asked about one such invoice by prosecutor Anna Cross, Wade said it, “makes me cry.”

“There’s so many hours here that I worked that I couldn’t get paid for,” Wade said.

But he added that he couldn’t walk away from the case.

“You have to see it through,” he testified.

Wade has the travel bug

Wade has come under fire for trips he took with Willis to Napa Valley and the Caribbean while they were dating.

Willis testified that Wade loves to travel and said his mother — who had just retired — accompanied them on one of the cruises they took.

“Mr Wade is a word traveler,” Willis said. “He’s been to six of the seven continents.”

She noted that Wade has a personal travel agent and another who just handles cruises.

“They do whatever he tells them. He’s on a first name basis with these people,” she said.

Efforts to punish Wade have so far failed

McAfee in September quickly shut down an attempt to sanction Wade for a mailer his law firm sent multiple defendants offering them legal services. The “mailer appears to be the type of mass-generated material to which all citizens with a mailbox are regularly subjected,” the judge wrote in a September order.

A month later, several defendants sought to dismiss the indictment because the DA’s office failed to file in a timely manner two sworn oaths taken by Wade. McAfee rejected their argument, stating that the requirements don’t apply to contractors working on single cases and that the defendants didn’t establish a constitutional violation or structural defect to the grand jury process that warranted dismissing the case outright. Alluding to a famous Monty Python sketch, McAfee added, “if this parrot of a motion is somehow not yet dead, the defendant has failed to establish how (Wade’s) actions resulted in prejudice.”

Staff writers Bill Rankin and Rosie Manins contributed to this article.