Fani Willis takes the stand as she fights to stay on Trump criminal case

It was an extraordinary sight during an acrimonious daylong hearing: The top prosecutor in a historic case against a former president for efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election was the one on the witness stand, parrying deeply invasive questions about her personal life.

Her choice to testify was even more remarkable because the judge in the case, Scott McAfee, may not have required it at all. Willis had initially objected to efforts to compel her testimony and had urged McAfee to scuttle a subpoena. But as one of her deputies was objecting Thursday to her being forced to testify, Willis entered the courtroom and said she wanted to take the stand after all.

Willis’ decision underscored the stakes of the fight: If McAfee removes her from the prosecution, her entire office would be disqualified, causing major disruption to the case if not derailing it altogether.

The hearing ended Thursday in the middle of Willis’ testimony. She will return to the stand Friday morning.

Her testimony careened between indignantly defending her prosecution of Trump and many of his allies, accusing her adversaries of working “contrary to democracy,” and sharing deeply personal — sometimes unsolicited — details about her relationship history, her vacations and her regular use of cash for major expenses.

Willis talked about how she “did 50 big” — a reference to her significant travels in 2021, the year she turned 50 — her preference for Grey Goose vodka over wine, and her father’s lifelong urging that she stash thousands of dollars in cash in her home at all times. Willis described reimbursing Wade in cash for some of their travel expenses.

“I don’t do my friends like that,” she said. “If you tell me it’s a G, then you’re going to get $1,000 back.”

She also described breaking up with Wade in August 2023, the same month she secured the grand jury racketeering indictment against Trump and 18 co-defendants. She said they disagreed in part over his views about women.

“He told me one time: ‘The only thing a woman can do for me is make me a sandwich,’” Willis recalled.

Willis’ testimony featured a series of prickly exchanges. “Don’t get cute with me,” she said to Merchant at one point. “You don’t have to yell at me,” Willis told Trump lawyer Steve Sadow as he questioned her about her activities. “Please do not yell at me.”

Defense attorneys clearly grew frustrated with the district attorney’s off-the-cuff commentary, prompting McAfee to warn her twice that he would strike portions of her testimony if she continued to stray far afield from the attorneys’ questions.

Willis’ testimony followed several hours on the witness stand by Wade, who entered a contract with Willis’ office in November 2021 to help run the Trump probe as a special prosecutor. Wade faced a barrage of questions about the timeline of his romantic relationship with Willis and how the pair financed vacations they took in 2022 and 2023.

Willis and Wade have insisted that their romantic relationship did not begin until 2022, after she had already hired him, and thus had no bearing on that decision.

But early on Thursday, another witness took the stand and contradicted that claim. That witness — Robin Yeartie, a self-described one-time “close friend” of Willis who later had a falling out with her — said she observed a romantic relationship between Willis and Wade as early as November 2019. Yeartie testified that she saw them kissing before Willis hired Wade on Nov. 1, 2021.

Yeartie’s testimony prompted McAfee to order Wade to take the stand despite Wade’s efforts to avoid testifying. Wade testified that Willis — whom he called an “independent, strong woman” — insisted on reimbursing him for her portions of the trips they took together. He also swore that their romantic relationship didn’t begin until March 2022, several months after Wade joined the Trump probe.

In his testimony, Wade described traveling with Willis to places like Aruba, Belize and Napa Valley in 2022 and 2023. He said he couldn’t recall whether they had traveled together in 2021.

He also said that Willis nearly always reimbursed him in cash — an assertion that prompted one of Trump’s co-defendants, David Shafer, to laugh out loud in the courtroom, earning him a scolding from the judge.

Wade testified that he didn’t reveal to others the personal relationship with his boss, but he insisted he wasn’t trying to cover it up.

“We’re private people,” he said. “Our relationship wasn’t a secret. It was just private.”

The defense lawyers say Wade misled McAfee and committed “fraud on the court” by denying in a sworn affidavit earlier this month that he was in a relationship with Willis prior to joining the investigative team. They also have highlighted filings in Wade’s recent divorce proceedings with his wife of more than two decades, saying that Wade omitted evidence of his relationship with Willis.

The hearing in an Atlanta courthouse, which was livestreamed on the court’s YouTube page and broadcast on cable news, delved into deeply personal aspects of Wade and Willis’ lives, as lawyers pressed Wade about how often he and Willis spoke on the phone, the circumstances of his divorce proceedings and which credit cards he used to pay for travel with Willis.

Wade insisted that he did not mention his relationship with Willis in his divorce proceedings because the questions referred to events during the marriage, and he considered that union “irretrievably broken” in 2015. He updated his divorce filings in January — after the defense lawyers sought to disqualify him and Willis from the Trump case — to assert a privilege that he said was intended to protect his privacy.

“I didn’t want the proceedings of my divorce to bleed over into the proceedings in this case,” Wade said.

Yeartie’s testimony was the first time a witness has publicly undercut the prosecutors’ claim about the timing of their relationship. Yeartie, who testified via Zoom, described meeting Willis in college and developing a close friendship that resulted in Willis subletting a condo from her in April 2021. Yeartie eventually took a job in Willis’ office, but resigned in 2022 amid internal acrimony, and the two have not spoken since, Yeartie testified.

Yeartie said she knew of Willis’ relationship with Wade from observing interactions between the pair, including in social settings, where she said she witnessed “hugging, kissing, just affection.” She also said Willis discussed the relationship with her.

However, the prosecution suggested Yeartie had an ax to grind against Willis stemming from Yeartie’s departure from the job in the district attorney’s office.

The atmosphere in the courtroom throughout the Thursday hearing was tense and acrimonious.

Before the testimony began, the prosecution railed against the effort to disqualify Willis, Wade and others. Prosecutor Adam Abbate complained that the defense was trying to “create a spectacle and create harassment” for Willis and had purveyed “flagrant falsehoods that have been spread throughout the world in an effort to affect this case, and to keep it from moving forward.”

On the witness stand later, Wade said the cash reimbursements from Willis were related to dangers she faced due to her notoriety, apparently related to the Trump case.

“Traveling with her is a task. You can probably imagine the attention that happens. For safety reasons, she would limit her transactions,” Wade said. “There’s no attempt to conceal. … Everything is here.”

“She’s a very independent, proud woman, so she’s going to insist that she carries her own weight,” he said. “It was a point of contention because she was very emphatic and adamant about this independent strong woman thing.”

At times, the grilling of Wade delved deeply into the weeds of his travel with Willis. Merchant, for instance, pressed him on whether he booked a cabin in Tennessee.

“I book lots of cabins,” Wade responded but said he was sure he never stayed in one with Willis.

He said he would take day trips with Willis out of state because her public profile made moving around locally impossible. Merchant asked Wade about dining at the “Fainting Goat” in Jasper, Ga., and taking a cruise with Willis and his mother.

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