Nathan Wade steps down after judge rules on Fani Willis disqualification motions

Judge Scott McAfee issued his ruling Friday morning on the motions to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her office from the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump and others.

Willis and Wade given a choice

Although McAfee stated that the Defendants failed to prove that the District Attorney acquired an actual conflict of interest in this case through her personal relationship and recurring travels with her lead prosecutor, McAfee asserted that the established record now highlights a significant appearance of impropriety that affects the current structure of the prosecution team - an appearance that must be addressed by the State through the selection of one of two options – either Willis or Wade must go. 

"The prosecution of this case cannot proceed until the State selects one of two options. The District Attorney may choose to step aside, along with the whole of her office, and refer the prosecution to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council for reassignment. See O.C.G.A. § 15-18-5. Alternatively, SADA Wade can withdraw, allowing the District Attorney, the Defendants, and the public to move forward without his presence or remuneration distracting from and potentially compromising the merits of this case," McAfee wrote. 

Nathan Wade resigns

A few hours later, Nathan Wade resigned his position as a special prosecutor for the Georgia election interference case on Friday afternoon. In the letter, Wade says that although the court found that the defendants failed to meet their burden of proving an actual conflict of interest, he was offering his resignation in the "interest of democracy" and in dedication to the American public. 

After Wade's resignation was announced, former President Trump posted on Truth Social that Wade had resigned in "disgrace" and that Wade was "Special" in more ways than one. He also said it was the equivalent of "Deranged Jack Smith" getting canned. Smith is the special counsel assigned to oversee the criminal investigations into the retention of classified documents at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. 


Willis responds to resignation

Willis complimented Wade in her response to his resignation. She praised him for his "professionalism and dignity" in face of threats and "unjustified attacks." She also said that she will always remember and remind everyone that he was "brave enough" to step forward and take on the investigation and prosecution of the case. Willis also called Wade an "outstanding advocate" and thanked him for his "patriotism, courage, and dedication to justice."

Response to financial benefit allegations

In response to allegations that Willis benefited financially from hiring Wade and prosecuting Trump and the other defendants, Judge McAfee wrote:

Furthermore - and of greater importance - the Court finds, largely based on the District Attorney’s testimony, that the evidence demonstrated the financial gain stemming from her relationship with Wade was not a motivating factor for the District Attorney to indict and prosecute this case. While a general motive for increased income cannot be entirely disregarded, the District Attorney was not financially destitute during this time or in dire need, as her salary exceeds $200,000 per year without any indication of excessive expenses or debts. Likewise, the Court finds that the Defendants have failed to show that the District Attorney’s conduct influenced the case to their detriment. ... In summary, the District Attorney did not act in a manner consistent with the theory that she orchestrated a financial scheme to enrich herself (or gain favor with Wade) by prolonging this prosecution or engaging in excessive litigation.

What the judge said about the relationship

Regarding the relationship between Willis and Wade, McAfee wrote:

Even if the romantic relationship began after SADA Wade’s initial contract in November 2021, the District Attorney chose to continue supervising and paying Wade while maintaining such a relationship. She also permitted the regular and informal exchange of money between them without any precise or verifiable reconciliation. This lack of a confirmed financial division raises the possibility and appearance that the District Attorney benefited - albeit insignificantly - from a contract solely within her jurisdiction.

Most importantly, if the case were to proceed unchanged, the prima facie concerns raised by the Defendants would persist. As the District Attorney testified, her relationship with Wade has only grown stronger since these motions, and Wade’s unconvincing explanation for the inaccurate interrogatories he submitted in his pending divorce suggests a willingness on his part to improperly conceal his relationship with the District Attorney.

McAfee continues to express that the public may have lingering doubts if their relationship has resumed, and an outsider could reasonably question whether Willis is exercising independent professional judgment.

"The testimony provided, including that of the District Attorney and Wade, did not alleviate these concerns."

Fani Willis reaction: Politicians, lawyers and others react to judge's ruling

The church speech

Regarding the speech Willis delivered in the historic Black church on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the judge ultimately found that the speech did not cross the line. 

The judge noted that the case is too far removed from jury selection to establish a permanent taint of the jury pool. However, the judge did deem the speech "legally improper" and wrote that providing such public comments creates "perilous waters" for the district attorney to navigate further into. 

McAfee also suggested that it may be time for an order preventing the State from mentioning the case in any public forum to prevent prejudicial pretrial publicity.

RELATED: Judge in Georgia slams Fani Willis' 'improper' church speech, 'playing the race card'


Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to learn on Friday whether she will be disqualified from the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump and his codefendants over her romantic relationship with Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade. 

Willis, the district attorney who initiated the investigation into potential interference in the 2020 presidential election results, faced a motion for disqualification filed by one of Trump's co-defendants, Michael Roman, in early January. The motion alleged an "improper, clandestine relationship" between Willis and Wade, whom she hired on November 1, 2021, to lead the investigation. Roman and his attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, also accused Willis of "profiting significantly" from the prosecution at taxpayers' expense.

Attorneys presented their arguments after several days of extraordinary testimony earlier this month. Now Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee will determine if Willis’ relationship with Wade amounts to a conflict of interest that should force them off one of four criminal cases against the former president.


Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis looks on during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (Photo by Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images)

The defense attorneys claim that Willis and Wade lied on the witness stand about when their relationship began and tried to prove that Willis had a financial interest in the case by hiring Wade and going on romantic vacations together without disclosing the relationship.


Willis and Wade have acknowledged the relationship, but say it has no bearing on the case against Trump and that the district attorney did not reap any financial benefits Wade earned as a special prosecutor. The pair said they didn’t begin dating until the spring of 2022 after Wade was hired, and that they split travel expenses.


McAfee has not given any signals of which way he's leaning, but said at the end of the hearing that there are "several legal issues to sort through, several factual determinations that I have to make," adding that he "will be taking the time to make sure that I give this case the full consideration it’s due."

Earlier this week, McAfee made another ruling about the case, saying that six counts in the indictment must be quashed, including three against Trump. The order left the other charges intact, and the judge wrote that prosecutors could seek a new indictment via another grand jury on the charges he dismissed. 

What happened at the hearing

Following a preliminary hearing, Judge McAfee expressed concern about the allegations and scheduled a full hearing for Roman's motion. The hearing featured testimony from Willis and Wade, both denying any relationship before Wade's hiring and insisting Willis paid for her fair share of expenses during their relationship. Roman's star witness, Terrence Bradley, ultimately failed to deliver on the stand, claiming he was speculating about the relationship.

Timeline: Fulton County DA Fani Willis, Nathan Wade controversy

After the hearing, both sides continued filing motions and replies. Roman's attorney submitted cellphone data alleging overnight stays by Wade at Willis's Hapeville home before the alleged relationship began. Lawyers for other defendants, David Shafer and Cathy Latham, filed notices for proposed testimonies to dispute Bradley's testimony.

The former president and remaining co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

What happens if Fani Willis is disqualified?

Willis’ removal would throw the most sprawling of the four criminal cases against Trump into question. But it wouldn’t necessarily mean the charges against him and 14 others would be dropped. A nonpartisan council supporting prosecuting attorneys in Georgia would be tasked with finding a new attorney to take over. That person could either proceed with some or all of the charges against Trump and others or drop the case altogether.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.