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Georgia Trump prosecutor faces misconduct allegations, and more Trump trial updates.


Keeping up with Donald Trump’s court schedule is a dizzying task, since he faces two federal trials, a criminal trial in Georgia, and two separate civil and criminal trials in New York. (Oh, and he’s running for president.) To make it easier to follow along, each Monday we’ll be looking back on all the Trump trial–related developments you might have missed the previous week.

Trump is kicking off 2024 booked and busy. He flew to Washington for a hearing on his presidential immunity appeal, then was off to New York to attend closing arguments of his civil fraud trial—also making a stop in Iowa for the start of the 2024 Republican primary—and to attend his second defamation trial. Meanwhile, down in Georgia, a judge ordered a hearing to review evidence related to allegations of misconduct against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Fani Willis Is Accused of Ethics Violations

Earlier this month, Mike Roman, a co-defendant in the Georgia election interference indictment, accused Willis of hiring her romantic partner as a lead prosecutor in her case against Trump. Roman wants his charges to be dismissed and to get Willis disqualified from prosecuting her case.

Nathan Wade is the prosecutor in question, a private attorney who was hired by the Fulton County district attorney’s office as a special prosecutor. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, public records indicate that since January 2022, Wade has been paid about $654,000 in legal fees—and Ashleigh Merchant, Roman’s lawyer, claims that money went in part to paying for the couple’s vacations to Napa Valley, Florida, and on multiple cruises.

Merchant did not offer up any evidence of a personal relationship between Willis and Wade, simply saying “sources close to both the special prosecutor and the district attorney have confirmed they had an ongoing, personal relationship.” She also claimed to have reviewed Wade’s divorce proceedings, which are still ongoing. (Willis may have to testify in those divorce proceedings, but only after Wade has been deposed.) Wade’s contract with the Fulton County DA’s office began on Nov. 1, 2021, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, one day before he filed for divorce.

Last weekend, Willis seemed to indirectly respond to these allegations during a speech at an Atlanta church. She did not name Wade or Trump, but reflected on how out of the three special prosecutors she hired for her investigation, only one was being criticized. “I’m just asking, God, is it that some will never see a Black man as qualified, no matter his achievements?” Willis also said she is a “flawed” and “imperfect” public servant. Then, late last week the New York Times revealed that Willis and defense attorneys for Roman, Trump, and other co-defendants had a series of hostile email exchanges in which Willis accused them of being disrespectful and condescending.

Finally, Judge Scott McAfee, in charge of overseeing Trump’s Georgia indictment, ordered a hearing for Feb. 15 to weigh the evidence of Willis’ alleged misconduct. The DA may end up being forced to address the allegations about her personal relationships head-on and explain why Wade was hired—he previously worked as a municipal judge, mostly dealing with traffic tickets, and then ran a private practice for family law and contract disputes. It’s also unclear if Willis or Wade would be removed from Trump’s case, or if someone else from the DA’s office could be assigned to lead it.

A Sneak Peek Into Trump’s Defense in the Classified Documents Case

Trump’s attorneys filed a new motion in his federal classified documents case where they lay out the argument that the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago were stored in secure locations and that there were no security risks.

The Department of Justice argues classified documents were found at “temporary secure locations.” Trump’s legal team disputes that, arguing that the Secret Service was present at Mar-a-Lago and took steps to secure the property and ensure Trump had a private space to review and discuss classified information. Trump’s attorneys also accuse the DOJ of disregarding “basic discovery obligations” after they refused to provide information about Trump’s security clearance. The special counsel has not yet responded to Trump’s latest motion.

The classified documents trial is technically scheduled for May 20, though Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed judge overseeing this case, has indicated that date won’t be feasible to keep, given the number of trials Trump faces this year. However, Cannon has yet to formally announce a new trial date. That, along with a handful of other pretrial rulings Cannon has issued, indicates she’s “firmly in the former president’s pocket,” argue legal experts Dennis Aftergut and Lawrence H. Tribe in a recent post for Slate.

Presidential Immunity and SEAL Team 6

On Jan. 9, the former president and his lawyers arrived at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and argued that Trump was entitled to “absolute immunity” from special counsel Jack Smith’s election interference indictment.

The hearing was a long time coming, after Judge Tanya Chutkan first rejected Trump’s immunity claim, then Smith tried petitioning the Supreme Court to hear Trump’s immunity argument in an effort to fast-track the appeals process. The high court declined to take up Smith’s petition, and so Trump’s appeal is squarely back in the hands of a three-judge appeals court panel.

Trump’s lawyer argued that presidential immunity means the former president cannot be criminally prosecuted unless he’s first been convicted and impeached by Congress. And since Trump was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate, he can’t be prosecuted now. As Slate’s Jeremy Stahl recently wrote, that interpretation would suggest “a criminal president could simply resign to receive an instant get-out-of-jail-free card. Or, if a president’s criminal conduct happened as he was leaving office and there was no time to impeach or convict, he would also get off scot-free.”

The appeals court judges seemed pretty skeptical of that argument. Judge Florence Pan, a Biden administration appointee, quickly put two and two together. “Could a president order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival? That’s an official act, an order to SEAL Team Six?” John Sauer, Trump’s lawyer, evaded the question, reiterating that in that situation a president would have to “speedily be impeached and convicted.” Pan pushed again: “But if he weren’t, there would be no criminal prosecution, no criminal liability for that?” Sauer dodged the question.

During the hearing, the judges made sure to note that former President Richard Nixon accepted a pardon, recognizing his criminal culpability as he was facing criminal prosecution for the Watergate cover-up, even though he was not impeached or convicted. It’s not clear when exactly the appeals court will issue its decision on Trump’s presidential immunity, but his lawyers have signaled that if the outcome isn’t in the former president’s favor, they will take it up with the Supreme Court.

Judge Threatens to Kick Trump Out of E. Jean Carroll Trial

True to form, Trump arrived at a New York courtroom for his defamation trial—his second in less than a year—and made quite a scene. Though he was not required to attend, Trump showed up and throughout the proceedings he audibly muttered things like “con job” and “witch hunt,” and shook his head, making it clear he was very exasperated.

Trump was already found liable for defaming and sexually abusing Carroll at the end of last year’s trial (perhaps confusingly referred to as Carroll II). This latest trial, known as Carroll I, is about how much Trump owes Carroll in damages (she’s asking for $10 million). Here’s a guide to all the key players in this trial.

Judge Lewis Kaplan, who oversaw the trials in both of Carroll’s lawsuits, at one point said to Trump: “I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial. I understand you’re probably very eager for me to do that.” Trump responded by throwing his hands up in the air. “I would love it,” the former president retorted.

Carroll testified in court last week that Trump’s comments about her have “shattered my reputation” and inundated her with death threats. As Carroll described one message where a person told her to “stick a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger,” Trump shook his head. The former president then held a news conference after the day’s court proceedings and described Kaplan as “a nasty man” who was “a Trump-hating guy,” since the judge refused to delay the trial so Trump could attend both the trial and his mother-in-law’s funeral on Thursday.

Dramatic Closing Arguments in the Civil Fraud Trial

Prosecutors for New York Attorney General Letitia James and Trump’s defense attorneys gave closing arguments on Jan. 11, during which the former president launched into a six-minute tirade about how he is supposedly being politically persecuted. After closing arguments, James told reporters that her case “has never been about politics or personal vendetta or about name-calling. This case is about the facts and the law, and Mr. Donald Trump violated the law.”

“I am an innocent man,” Trump insisted. “I’m being persecuted by someone running for office and I think you have to go outside the bounds.”

Trump’s speech came after much back-and-forth between his lawyer, Chris Kise, prosecutors for the AG’s office, and Judge Arthur Engoron over whether Trump could deliver his own closing remarks—a highly unusual move. Engoron agreed to allow Trump to speak, but only if he remained focused solely on issues related to his fraud trial. If he violated those rules, Engoron warned that Trump would be forcibly removed from the courtroom and fined “not less than $50,000.” During Trump’s speech, Engoron warned Kise to “control your client.” It’s not clear if Engoron will penalize Trump; he adjourned the court after the former president was done speaking.

Engoron is set to issue a final verdict in this case by the end of January. James is seeking $370 million from Trump and wants him banned from doing business in New York. Here’s a rundown of Trump’s civil fraud trial and all the characters involved.

Jack Smith Won’t Be Held in Contempt

Trump’s legal team won’t get its wish—Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that Jack Smith will not be held in contempt of court for meeting pretrial deadlines and sending discovery material while the federal election interference case is on pause.

She affirmed that merely receiving discovery isn’t a “meaningful burden” for Trump’s legal team, nor was the federal government acting in bad faith when they filed a motion last month requesting Trump be banned from injecting politics into his trial and when they sent thousands of pages of discovery material. She also clarified that her stay order did not explicitly ban the special counsel from meeting pretrial deadlines. However, Chutkan did throw Trump a bone—moving forward, the special counsel’s team will need to seek permission from the court before filing any more pretrial motions, for as long as her stay order is in effect.

The federal election interference trial has been on pause since December while an appeals court hears Trump’s presidential immunity claim. If that court does not rule in Trump’s favor, he’s likely to continue to appeal it all the way up to the Supreme Court in an effort to delay the trial as much as possible.





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