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From New York Times, I'm Michael Boboro. This is the daily.


Our relationship wasn't a secret. It was just private.


Today, it is an inaccurate way to state the question, and I will certainly restate it.


So it is very accurate.


Okay? And please do not yell at me.


An explosive and emotional court hearing on Thursday in Georgia has revealed that what once seemed like a long shot legal challenge to an election interference case against Donald Trump and his allies is now a serious threat that could derail the entire.


No, no.


This is the truth.


It is a lie. It is a lie.


My colleague Richard Faucet walks us through the dramatic opening day of testimony. It's Friday, February 16.


Richard, this was one of the most remarkable court hearings I've ever seen. And I watch a lot of court hearings. It was cinematic, it was suspenseful, it was angry. I mean, at one point, the judge stopped the proceedings to kind of ask everyone to calm down, and it was extraordinarily high stakes.


That's exactly my reaction. There was no idea when the hearing started this morning where it was going to go. Lawyers were making on the fly arguments based on stuff they had just learned. A star witness, we thought was going to change the whole shape of the day. And perhaps the week didn't end up being the star witness. It ended up being somebody else. And then, of course, we just had this absolute white hot torrent of emotion from Fonnie Willis, the prosecutor in this election interference case. And the whole time you're thinking about the stakes, which is that this tremendous criminal case that has a former president in its crosshairs is potentially under threat.


Right? Well, I think we have to rewind the clock just a few weeks to establish why this hearing happens and why it is so important and why the drama of this day matters. And this all starts, and I want you to explain this with a defendant that most of us had never really heard of in this Georgia racketeering case against Donald Trump and his alleged co conspirators, who are accused of allegedly criminally attempting to overturn the Georgia election. So tell us the story of that defendant and how he brings us to this hearing.


Sure. So this criminal prosecution started out with an indictment of 19 people, including some serious high profile names. Among them, of course, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, who was a defendant, Mark Meadows, who served as Donald Trump's White House chief of staff toward the end of his term. But there were also this kind of array of much more obscure and sort of fascinating individuals, and one of them was a guy named Michael Roman. And that's the guy you're talking about. He was a top official in Trump's 2020 campaign. He was Trump's director of election day operations, and he was involved with a number of other lawyers and aides to Donald Trump in creating this idea that there should be these fake electors who could somehow serve as the actual electors to turn the election that Mr. Trump lost in his favor and keep him in the White House.




But he definitely was not, like, a brand name defendant.




Thank you. So this case was really kind of rocking along, and it really was a case where the prosecution seemed to have the upper hand. It was pretty airtight in a lot of ways, and four of the 19 original defendants had taken guilty pleas. But what happened is there was one of these many pretrial deadlines on January eigth. And sort of out of the blue, Michael Roman's lawyer drops this absolute bomb of emotion in which she makes some allegations that sent the entire case down. This kind of course, of, like, know melodrama that nobody saw coming.


Well, just describe this telenovela esque motion that Michael Roman and his lawyer filed.


So the motion that kind of sent everything into this very different direction alleged that Fonnie Willis, the district attorney who is heading up the prosecution, was engaged in an affair with the man she hired to manage the case, a man named Nathan Wade, and that he had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the DA's office, and he used some of this money to take funny Willis on a number of exotic vacations to places like Aruba and Napa Valley. And as a result of all these things, the lawyer argues, both Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis and Ms. Willis's entire office, which happens to be the largest prosecutor's office in the state of Georgia, should all be disqualified from the case. And the idea of disqualifying these prosecutors doesn't just threaten the case against Michael Roman, it threatens the entire case against all the 15 remaining defendants, including Donald Trump. It really creates a scenario by which the case could just go poof. It could just go away.


Okay, so putting aside for just a moment the accuracy of this allegation and the motion, can you just explain the legal questions that it raises? Why would a relationship between these two lawyers potentially disqualify them from the case and end up having the whole case potentially thrown out?


So Michael Roman's motion makes the case, essentially that the motives of the district attorney may be less than pure, that what motivates her every day when she wakes up and prosecutes this huge case is not just seeing through a prosecution in the interest of justice, but also this sense that there's another motive that's working in concert with it, which is to enrich herself because her one time boyfriend was making all this money that her office is paying him, and that she's using it to go on these vacations, and that somehow her judgment is clouded, and as a result, the very process of justice is clouded.


Got it. So the allegation is that by hiring her boyfriend to work on the case, Fonnie Willis's interest becomes not necessarily in properly prosecuting this case, but basically in keeping it going at all costs because it benefits her.


That's right. So one of Michael Roman's motions says that the more work that's done on the case, regardless of what justice calls for, the more Fonnie Willis and Nathan Wade get paid, the more they fight his motions, the more they get paid, the more they refuse to dismiss defendants who should not be indicted, the more money they make, and that all of this amounted to a conflict of interest. And, of course, the more money the special prosecutor makes, Roman's lawyer wrote, the more the district attorney gets to reap the financial benefits. So you get the idea that there's something there that is motivating her beyond just this pure quest to see the justice is done.


And what this motion seems to claim is that if this alleged relationship and the benefit that it brings to Fonnie Willis can be proven, then this entire case should therefore be thrown out.


That's right. Although it's worth keeping in mind that a number of legal scholars have argued that even if all of these allegations were true, there's really no basis for this being construed as a conflict of interest, and that these prosecutors should stay on the case, and it should be steady as she goes from here on out, that this is all a big distraction that has no legal merit.


So what you're saying is that no one's quite sure that, legally speaking, there's a real argument here to be made by Michael Roman. And if I'm remembering correctly, the feeling that a lot of people had when this motion was filed was that it was kind of a Hail Mary. Right. And there was not much evidence that it was necessarily even true.


Yeah, well, I mean, it was a Hail Mary in the sense that Michael Roman's lawyer didn't include any evidence to back up her claim, this very salacious claim. So there was a moment there when nobody knew, really what to make of it. It was a very uncomfortable moment, given the nature of the allegations. And given the seriousness of this case. And a few days after the initial filing by Michael Roman.


Good morning.


Fonnie Willis gave a speech at an african american church in Atlanta.


First thing they say, oh, she gonna play the race card now. But no, God, isn't it them who's playing the race card when they only question one?


In which she sort of portrayed this whole thing as a big witch hunt. She also insinuated that race was a motivation for this scrutiny of her and for Nathan Wade, both of whom are african american.


God, wasn't it them that attacked this lawyer of impeccable credentials? The black man I chose has been a judge more than ten years. Is it that some will never see a black man as qualified, no matter his achievements? What more can one achieve? The other two have never been.


But then a few days later, it looked like there was indeed some there, there. It came out that there were some credit card statements that showed that Nathan Wade had bought tickets to vacation destinations for himself and for Fonnie Willis. So it started to look know this is more than just a figment of someone's imagination. But Fonnie Willis and her office were convinced that there is really no legal basis for an affair to result in her being disqualified. She files a motion that essentially acknowledges the affair. It included a sworn affidavit from Nathan Wade in which he said, yes, there was an affair. It started in 2022, after I'd started working for the DA's office in November 2021. But the argument was, yes, there is some there, there. However, judge, there's no need for an evidentiary hearing. Just looking at the law, there is no reason why this relationship between two consenting adults in their 50s should have any bearing on an election interference case involving a former president of the United States. But another dramatic moment comes when the judge basically says, look, we've got to determine the contours of this thing, because if these allegations were true, there is a possibility that this did constitute a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest, which might be enough for him to disqualify these prosecutors.


So he went ahead and he set the evidentiary hearing. And the judge's decision was a tremendous loss for Fonnie Willis in her office, and not only because she felt like this was an absolutely untoward and sort of offensive intrusion into her personal life, but it also meant that this question was live, this question of whether or not there was some basis to disqualify her in her office and send what, without question, is the biggest case she'll ever have to a place where we're really not sure whether it'll end up in a trial at all.


So Richard headed into Thursday's evidentiary hearing, this highly anticipated legal session. What are the biggest questions that everyone's looking for answers to?


Well, some of the biggest questions were laid out by the judge himself, and they all had to do with his interest in the extent to which there was some kind of financial benefit to these prosecutors as a result of this criminal case. The first question has to do with timing. Fonny Willis and Nathan Wade have said their relationship started after November 2021, which is this key date when he begins working as a contractor for the Fulton county district attorney's office. Michael Roman's lawyer, a lawyer named Ashley Merchant, had asserted that she was going to be able to prove that the affair started beforehand. And all this, we think, is of interest to the judge because it just looks different when you're thinking about the question of self dealing.




Did you hire a guy and this guy is someone you, after long hours at the office or whatever, you kind of fell for and things progressed from there? Or was it somebody who was really kind of already established as a boyfriend, and what you're really doing is hooking up your boyfriend with a plum job? And so that was one key piece and one key question everyone had going in. The second had to do more with the money. As it pertains to the trips that Fonnie Willis and Nathan Wade took together to Aruba to California wine country, the prosecutors had claimed that they roughly split the costs of these trips. They didn't provide a huge amount of evidence. They provided a little bit of evidence that seemed to sort of hint at this idea. But the judge obviously wanted to see a lot more. And in fact, during the hearing of both of these issues were indeed quite big.


Okay, so walk us through the most important moments of testimony, especially as they relate to these two key questions.


All right, thank you all. Please be seated. All right, we are on the record with 23.


The first issue, the timing issue, when did the affair start? Was something that we thought was going to be answered because Michael Roman's lawyer said it was going to be answered by a man named Terrence Bradley, who received a subpoena to testify.


Good morning, Mr. Bradley. How are you?


Good morning.


Not happy to be here, I'm assuming.


I am not.


Okay, I understand. Thank you for being here.


Wasn't by choice, right. Mr. Bradley is a former law partner of Nathan Wade's. He also served for a time as Nathan Wade's divorce lawyer.


When did Mr. Wade come to you to file the divorce action in Cobb county?


That's privileged information. But when Terrence Bradley took the stand, almost immediately he was met with a barrage of concerns from defense lawyers, and they threw up all these objections.


Are you aware of when their romantic relationship began?


Your honor, I'm going to object. That relates to privilege. He says that he began some of them on some technical legal grounds, some of them on this very specific technical legal ground, that there was an attorney client privilege that should prevent him from discussing anything having to do essentially with the affair.


Again, I have consulted with the bar. I cannot reveal anything that I saw or learned.


Mr. Bradley is kind of sitting on the stand saying, look, I talked to the bar association. There's really very little for me to do here. If I want to keep my law license, I need to just kind of keep it zipped.


So, Mr. Radley, you may be excused for now. Thank you. We will call miss Yurty.


So, as kind of all this is unfolding and there's a little bit of chaos in the courtroom, and you can see that some people's hackles are being raised. Michael Roman's lawyer says, okay, well, I'm just going to call another person that I've served the subpoena.


Would you please state and spell your full name for the court?


Robin Latrice Yurty.


This is a woman named Robin Yurty.


Can you tell the judge when you first met Ms. Willis in college, who.


Is a former friend of Fonnie Willis.


And do you understand it that their relationship began in 2019 and continued until the last time you spoke with her?




And you were essentially her best friend during this time?


Right? Not best friend. Good friend.


Good friend. Okay.


Close friend.


And she asserted that she knew Fonnie quite well and that Fonny Willis's affair with Nathan Wade started before his start date of November 2021.


A pretty key piece of testimony that directly contradicts what Wade and Willis claim to be the starting point of their relationship?


Yes. She was very emphatic about this point.


You have no doubt that their romantic relationship was in effect from 2019 until the last time you spoke with her?


No doubt.


So it was obviously a very dramatic moment, and it, of course, raises the question of whether or not someone is lying.




Another thing that Ms. Yuri's testimony did was it gave the defense attorneys the ability to call their next witness to the stand.


Please state, my name is Nathan Wade.


Who was none other than Nathan Wade himself.


When did your romantic relationship with Miss Willis begin?




When in 2022?


Early 2022.


Nathan Wade takes the stand, and he continues to insist that the romantic relationship between him and Fonnie Willis began in 2022, after he'd been hired by her to do the trump case. But a lot of his testimony centered around questions about whether or not she had paid him for roughly half of all of these trips.


What I allege is that our travel was split roughly evenly. So where, you see, I have booked a flight, or I've paid for a flight with my credit card. What you don't see is that she covered her own flight reimbursement to me.


So this roughly sharing travel, you're saying she reimbursed you?


She did.


And where did you deposit the money? She reimbursed you?


Oh, it was cash.


She didn't give me any checks.


So she paid you cash for her share of all these vacations?


Mr. Schaefer, you'll step out if you do that.


He claims that Fonny Willis repaid him for a number of these travel related vacation expenses in cash.


In fact, everything got repaid in cash 2023, December. You said you didn't have any receipts.


I do not have any receipts. I did not have any receipts.


But you did travel with Ms. Willis.


He also said at one point that he didn't have any deposit slips that showed that he'd received the cash and then deposited it, that she was somebody who was an independent woman. It was very important for her to make sure that they more or less went dutch on stuff, and that the way she did it was not through an app. It wasn't by writing a check. It wasn't was, you know, with physical american currency.


So Wade is saying this was all on the up and up. Fonnie Willis, his girlfriend at the time, was paying for half of everything. But he can't prove it because she's paying him back in cash, and he doesn't have any records of depositing that cash.


Yeah, that's right. And as you can imagine, this was received with something like extreme incredulity from the defense lawyers.


And she paid you cash for both of your portions or just hers?




Okay, so that trip, Belize, just Belize. She paid you for everything on Belize the entire trip.


And, of course, to the defense lawyers, all this felt a little bit too convenient. The fact that these cash payments, of course, would have no record to preserve that they actually happen.


Right. So at this point, and, Richard, I was watching some of this testimony, things are not going super well for Fannie Willis or Nathan Wade. We've got this witness saying the relationship between the two of them started earlier than either has acknowledged. We have no records that Fannie Willis reimbursed Wade. It's rough sledding.


That's right.


All right, Ms. Merchant, any other witnesses?




We would call Fonny Willis in the.


Middle of all this steps. Fonnie Willis.


We would ask the court that the.


Court allowed Miss Willis to be called.


Interrogated on these met.


Can I wait?


To your honor, who walked unaccompanied through the front door of the courtroom.


I'm ready to go.




And she said something to the effect of, let's do this. And she said it at a time when her lawyer was trying to argue to the judge that there was no reason why her testimony should even be necessary, but she really made this kind of dramatic decision to go ahead and put herself on the stand.


Ms. Willis, how did you know to come into the courtroom right then?


There were people. I was pacing in my office. Okay. And I heard someone yell, his testimony is done. It only made sense to me that I would be your next witness. And I've been very anxious to have this conversation with you today. So I ran to the courtroom.


So as soon as it was very.


Much in keeping with Fonnie Willis and her personality, which is extremely big, so she is confronted by Ashley Merchant, the lawyer for Michael Roman. And these two women have this very intense face off.


Let's start back in 2019. So you and Mr. Wade met in October 2019 at a conference.


That is correct. And I think in one of your motions, you tried to implicate. I slept with him at that conference, which I find to be extremely offensive. I stayed.


And from the get go, it's obvious that Fonnie Willis is extremely angry and.


Keep the answers confined to the questions best you can. I think you'll have more than enough ample opportunity on when the state.


It's highly offensive when someone lies on you, and it's highly offensive when they try to implicate that you slept with somebody the first day you met with them. And I take exception to it.


All right, well, Ms. Williams. And it was just a searing series of.


No, no, this is the.


See, Mr. Stauff, thank you. We're going to take five minutes.


And the judge, Judge McAfee, basically shut the proceedings down for about five minutes, which is a very Judge McAfee thing to do. He's a very kind of even keeled judge, and you could tell he needed to just put a damper on things. And give everybody a chance, including Fonny Willis, to just cool down.


And what do we end up learning from Fonnie Willis's dramatic testimony here about some of the key questions we have been talking about?


Well, one of the most important things we learned from Fonnie Willis's testimony was that she is going to stick to her story and Nathan Wade's story.


And when did you start dating?


When I started dating Mr. Wade, it was right around then, April 2022 22.


That their romantic relationship really only blossomed in 2022.


It's not like when you're in grade school and you send a little letter and it says, will you be my girlfriend? And you check it. I don't know the day that we started seeing each other, but it was early. 22 is my recollection.


After she hired him to work on the Trump case, I would say we.


Had a tough conversation in August.


She also told us that they stopped dating sometime around the summer of 2023, before the trump indictment was handed up.


So let's just back up and talk about the first time that you went to Florida with Mr. Wade. That was the time that you said you stayed in Miami at the hotel.


And there was also this really interesting conversation about the fact that it was Nathan Wade who had put so many of these travel related charges on his own credit card.


So, yes, he is the original one that does it. Mr. Wade is a world traveler. I'm not as versed as him. He's been to six of the seven continents. And so he has both a personal travel agent and he also has a cruise. Travel.


She said that he's a world traveler, that he's really in that relationship. He was the guy who was more experienced in setting up travel plans and paying for them.


I know he initially paid for it. Did you pay him back for the.


Cruise and for Aruba? Yeah, I gave him his money before we ever went on that trip.


You gave him cash before you ever went on the. Mm hmm.




And so when you got cash to pay him back on these trips, would you go to the ATM? No, lady, you would not go to the ATM?




And then there was also a really interesting conversation about why she relied so much on cash to reimburse him for some of these travel expenses.


So the cash that you would pay him, you wouldn't get it out of the bank?


I have money in my house.


You have money in your house? So it was just money that was there.


When you meet my father, he's going to tell you, as a woman, you should always have, which I don't have. So let's don't tell him that you should have at least six months in cash at your house at all time. Now, I don't know why this old black man feels like that, but he does. When we were growing up, her argument.


Was that it was really based in a lot of things that her father, who she's very close to and who really played a very big role in raising her, passed on to her, which is that you need to have a certain amount of cash around on you.


If you're a woman and you go on a date with a man, you better have $200 in your pocket. So if that man acts up, you can go where you want to go.


There is an empowering element of this that he taught her.


It's interesting that we're here about this money. Mr. Wade is used to women that, as he told me one time, the only thing a woman can do for him is make him a sandwich. We would have brutal arguments about the fact that I am your equal.


I don't need anything.


Miss Willis also made it clear that in this romantic relationship, there was no question that she wanted to be treated as an equal. And she, in fact, called out Mr. Wade for some sexist ideas that he.


Had, which is why I was giving him his money back. I don't need anybody to foot my bills. The only man who's ever foot my bills completely is my daddy.


And when you heard this coming from her, at least when I heard it coming from her, you had this sort of coherent idea of why somebody like funny Willis would be so reliant on cash. It had also served, in a way, to buttress what Nathan Wade had just said. The fact that she was a person who paid him back in this way. And listening to it, I kind of went from a sense of, okay, well, this sounds bizarre to something that's more like, well, okay, this is plausible. This is something that's been passed down, and it's something that you could maybe. I can't verify it, but it just seems like something that would be plausible in this moment when cash is kind of on the way out for some people, but for some other people, it really feels like kind of an empowering tool.


Right. And in the end, she doesn't give an inch on these questions of when the relationship started and whether she benefited from it.


That's right. She stuck to her guns. And she also had a really dramatic moment where she tried to remind everyone who was following along that she was not on trial.


So your office objected to us getting Delta records for flights that you may have taken when.


Mr. Well, no, I object to you getting records. You've been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're confused. You think I'm on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.


She said it was. Do you have any pride, the people who tried to overturn the election, who are on trial? And that was one of the moments that really sort of sent a real kind of shock through the courtroom. You have this melodrama, this kind of footnote that's now ballooned into its own story. And it was a very interesting moment of kind of redirecting the flow of the conversation back to very fundamental questions about democracy and efforts to subvert it.


Ms. Willis, you can step down. You're done for today.


You want me to lead the courtroom.


Or you can sit at the council table. We don't need you in the witness box.


Richard. By the end of this testimony, Yurty Wade Willis, a pretty complicated portrait has emerged of this relationship that's now at the center of these questions of whether this case involving democracy moves forward. I mean, this one witness says the relationship starts before Willis hired Wade, but it's just her word. There's no hard evidence. And Wade and Willis, under oath disagree. It becomes clear that Wade did pay for a lot of travel for Willis, and yet Willis says she reimbursed him. But there's no evidence that either of them can produce to verify that. So there aren't really smoking guns in either direction.


Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, what we do know is that we're going to have a lot more testimony, we're going to have more witnesses who will probably be called. But I do think that this has given Donald Trump and his allies the ability to create a kind of plume of suspicion that there were bad intentions behind this case. And I think we should think about what the real practical ramifications of that issue are. And by an issue, I mean a public relations loss for the district attorney's office. It has a real potential material effect, because the jury that sits to decide whether or not Donald Trump broke the law in Georgia will come from Fulton county. And if they continue to read headlines that say that something is fishy about Fonny Willis and her boyfriend or ex boyfriend and their travel, you could potentially see a greater possibility that at the very least, one of those twelve future jurors decides that something is too fishy for them to vote guilty.




And in that way, this entire drama is extremely relevant, no matter what the judge rules in the coming days.


In other words, no matter what the judge decides, whether he keeps them on the case or disqualifies Willis and Wade, something about this case in its fundamental mission has been altered here and maybe weakened.


I think that's possible. And one of the things I find so remarkable is that we've all thought of the Georgia case as one that really couldn't be touched by Donald Trump if he were to be re elected. He couldn't pardon himself. He couldn't direct his future attorney general to dismiss the case. And yet here we are with this threat to the Georgia case that's coming from a very different place. That's coming from what some people would argue would be a lapse in judgment. It's almost unfathomable to imagine that history could be bent by something like that. But here we are.


Well, Richard, thank you very much. We appreciate it.


Thank you, Michael.


The hearing is scheduled to resume this morning, with Fonny Willis expected to return to the stand. A ruling on whether she and Nathan Wade should be removed from the case is expected in the next few weeks. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. A judge in New York has officially scheduled the first criminal trial against Donald Trump to begin on March 25, ensuring that the former president will face at least one jury before election day. That trial, led by the Manhattan district attorney, will focus on allegations that Trump falsified business records during his 2016 presidential campaign in order to hide a sexual relationship with an adult film star. And police in Kansas City said they believed that a dispute between teenagers was the cause of a mass shooting at a Super bowl victory celebration that injured nearly two dozen people and killed a 43 year old woman. Police identified that woman as Elizabeth Galvin, a local DJ whose son was also shot in the leg during the gunfire. Today's episode was produced by Rob Zipko, Sidney Harper and Alex Stern, with help from Rochelle Banja. It was edited by Devin Taylor, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood.


Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsberg of Wonderley. Special thanks to John Ketchum. That's it for the daily I'm Michael Bobaro. See you on Monday.