ATLANTA, Ga — A messy love triangle between the high-powered district attorney in charge of the 2020 election-fraud case involving former President Donald Trump, the married lover she chose to be special prosecutor and his estranged wife is imploding in Fulton County.
Nobody on either side of the political aisle understands what Fulton County DA Fani Willis was thinking when she hired her reported boyfriend, a personal injury lawyer with zero high-profile felony trial experience, to be the lead special prosecutor in what is likely the biggest case of her career.
Nor do people understand why she’d blur her personal and professional life by jetting off for a $2,600 cruise and romantic trip to California’s Napa Valley with still legally married Wade while working on the sprawling and complex racketeering case against former President Donald Trump and his allies.
But Willis’ decision to hire Nathan Wade, 51, a sharp dresser who operates out of a basement office 20 miles north of Atlanta, and allegedly pay him thousands more than two much more qualified lawyers on her team, has backfired and threatens to derail her career — if not put the planned trial against Trump on state election interference charges in jeopardy.
Bank records released Friday in a new filing by Wade’s estranged wife’s lawyers in Cobb County were the first proof of Wade and Willis’ relationship, showing that he purchased tickets for San Francisco and Miami on his personal credit card in 2022 and 2023, after Wade had been named special prosecutor.
Shortly after, the Fulton County Board of Commissioner’s audit committee announced it was investigating Willis over potential “misuse” of taxpayer funds over her appointment of Wade.
Willis, 44, the daughter of Black Panther turned savvy criminal defense lawyer John C. Floyd III, has chosen to dig in her heels since a bombshell motion was filed Jan. 8 by one of the defendants in the Trump case, Michael Roman, alleging that she had an “improper” and “clandestine” affair with Wade and asking that the charges against him be dropped.
She also overpaid him to the tune of at least $675,000 since Jan. 2022 with taxpayer monies that the two then used for their lavish vacations, the motion alleges.
During their alleged romance, the pair have also regularly been seen out and about all over town, with a manager at the pricey Chops steakhouse in Atlanta telling The Post the two were regulars.
Willis gave an impassioned speech at the Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta last week calling the allegations against her and Wade a racially-motivated attack and is trying to avoid being deposed in court about it.
Neither she nor Wade have denied they are in a romantic relationship. When asked outside his office last week about the accusations by a Post reporter, Wade refused comment, walked into his office then returning holding a handgun.
“If the romantic relationship is true, all I can say is that love can make you do strange things,” Dwight Thomas, 72, one of Atlanta’s most prominent criminal defense lawyers, told the Post.
Thomas, who is black and worked cases against Willis for years as well as briefly consulting for Trump’s defense team in Georgia, added: “Fani is an excellent lawyer. But she’s new to politics and this would not have happened if serious political thinking had been done. As it stands now, it looks very bad. But this is not about race.”
Roman and his lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, made a number of allegations in the motion which came from now-sealed documents in the messy, ongoing divorce between Wade and his estranged wife of 26 years, Joycelyn.
Joycelyn, who has since moved to Odessa, Texas, claims she is nearly destitute while Wade remains in their 7-bedroom manor on Honey Pot Way in Marietta.
Numerous media outlets have requested the divorce filings be unsealed as the scandal has begun spiraling.
On Thursday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee scheduled a hearing for Feb. 15 – and set a deadline for Willis to respond to allegations she had an inappropriate relationship with Wade by Feb. 2.
On the same day, her legal team also made a filing in the Wade divorce case in which she attempted to get out of sitting for a grilling by his ex-wife, who has been seeking to depose Willis.
Joycelyn’s bid to depose Willis — which was filed the same day Roman filed the affair allegations as part of his effort to get out of criminal charges — is only meant to harass Willis and “damage her professional reputation,” Willis’ lawyer Cinque Axam wrote.
Axam also alleged that Joycelyn had “conspired with interested parties in the criminal election interference case” to “coordinate” filing court papers in the two cases, all to try to embarrass Willis.
The legal back-and-forth also saw Willis’ lawyers accuse Joycelyn of breaking up the marriage by sleeping with one of her husband’s friends, charges her lawyers strongly denied, adding she had merely sent some texts to an “old friend” because she “was experiencing a profound sense of disconnection in her marriage” after prior infidelity by Wade.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has also asked for messages and records from Wade, saying he may have abused federal funds by billing the county for trips he took with Willis during their pair’s relationship.
On Friday Bob Ellis, a Fulton County commissioner in charge of an audit committee sent Willis a letter asking for documents from her to see whether county monies paid to Wade “were converted to your personal gain in the form of subsidized travel or other gifts.”
“It appears to be the accuser has more legal issues than the accused,” longtime Georgia state lawmaker Vernon Jones, a one-time-Democrat-turned-Republican, told The Post about Willis. “It ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun. The other shoe is really going to drop when those divorce documents come out.
“She’s going to have to answer questions about whether she was sleeping with him and why he was paid so much and where did the funds come from that she was paying him with. It’s not about race. It’s about the optics.”
One politically connected Democratic activist in Atlanta who wants to see the case against Trump go forward said he’s worried.
“You don’t see too many Democratic leaders or anyone on MSNBC backing Fani up when she says this is a race thing,” he told The Post. “They can see how bad this looks. I think there’s a real chance this case could go off the rails because of it.”
However, Stephen Gillers, a longtime professor at NYU Law School and an expert on legal ethics, told The Post he disagreed and believes it’s all much ado about nothing.
“Roman’s allegations, even if true, would neither disqualify Willis from leading the case nor require dismissal of the indictment,” Gillers said. “If true, the charges may at most suggest a basis for professional discipline.”
Members of Atlanta’s political power structure are more leery — especially of Wade, who was chosen to mentor Willis in 2019 and counts another assistant district attorney, Sonya Allen — currently running for Cobb County DA — as a protege despite his less than impressive resume.
“Whether you are in need of representation after a major car accident or are going through a change in your personal life that requires representation with a family law issue; whether you have a contract dispute, or whether you are involved in any type of civil litigation, Nathan J. Wade will be a zealous advocate for you,” his website reads.
Thomas, who has represented some of the state’s highest-profile defendants in more than four decades of trial work in Georgia and has been doing RICO cases since 2002, said he knows all the “serious lawyers” in the state.
“Mr. Wade is not a person I have seen or been involved with as prosecutor or defense lawyer of serious felony cases,” Thomas said.
Willis had friends and enemies among both Republicans and Democrats before she took office and after, numerous Atlanta political insiders told The Post.
Some in the black community resented her hard-nosed prosecutions in headline cases such as the ongoing trial involving rapper Young Thug and some of his associates in YSL – Young Slime Life – who Willis claims were all part of a criminal syndicate.
Others, such as members of a 5500-strong Facebook group aimed at reducing skyrocketing crime in once-safe Buckhead — the most affluent neighborhood in Atlanta, which Willis joined herself when she was running for DA in 2019 — say they feel fooled by her.
“She presented herself to us as a just-the-facts type who wanted the same things we did, to cut down on crime and make our city safer,” Kendra Adams, a local activist and group member told The Post.
“So our entire group voted for her but now we feel it was a bit of a bait and switch. When the Trump issue came up it felt like — should this really be our priority? When you elect a local official you’re not looking for them to take on – and spend taxpayer money – on some divisive national issue.”
Adams was one of a number of Atlanta activists, including Republican activist Amber Connor, who initially liked Willis and thought she’d work for law and order in Fulton County but now believe she has a very different agenda, and there may be more powerful people guiding her behind the scenes.
Fani has said in the past she is very close to her dad, who became a criminal defense attorney in Washington DC.
He split up with her rarely-mentioned mother, Cheryl Dotson, 78, of Cerritos, Calif. not long after the family moved to California when Fani was still a young child.
“I think the White House is directing her,” Connor told The Post. “These are big boys playing these big games and I think she may be in over her head. I don’t think she’s innocent but I also think she’s being used. They are conducting lawfare illegally to go after a political opponent. It looks like a clown show.”
Trump has been hit with a total of 91 felony counts across the four indictments brought against him in recent months, including the Georgia case, and he faces a maximum of 712 years and six months behind bars if convicted and given the maximum sentence on all counts.