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Georgia DA testifies in a hearing seeking her removal from Trump case

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A court hearing in one of former President Donald Trump's legal cases featured a different main character.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. That's right. Yesterday's main protagonist was Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. She's fighting off an attempt to remove her from the Georgia election interference case involving the former president. Trump and other defendants accuse her of a conflict of interest stemming from a romantic relationship with a prosecutor that she hired for the probe.

MARTIN: WABE's Sam Gringlas has been in the courtroom and he is with us now from Atlanta. Good morning, Sam.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: OK. So awkward, embarrassing, all of the above. But what exactly does this personal relationship, which the two have now acknowledged, have to do with the Trump case? I guess I'm asking, how did we get to this hearing?

GRINGLAS: Well, Michel, this began when one of the defendants lobbed an accusation of his own. He said DA Fani Willis had been in an improper relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade and that she stood to financially benefit from this prosecution, with the money Wade earned from the case funding fancy trips with Willis. Essentially, the defendants argue Willis has a disqualifying conflict. To be clear, though, these claims have nothing to do with actions by Trump and others to undermine Georgia's 2020 election result.

MARTIN: So now a judge is trying to decide whether to disqualify the DA. What's the testimony been like so far?

GRINGLAS: Well, the two prosecutors already acknowledged that they had been more than colleagues, but there were still many unanswered questions, some very personal, like what exactly did the relationship entail? Who paid for what? Michel, there were gasps in the room when Willis suddenly appeared saying she wanted to testify.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FANI WILLIS: 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.

MARTIN: Well, I mean, it sounds kind of intense. What exactly was so contentious?

GRINGLAS: Prosecutors insist the relationship did not begin before Willis hired Wade for the election probe, but an ex-friend of Willis disputed that another disagreement, whether Willis paid Wade back for her share of vacation expenses, that matters because it gets to whether Willis has a financial stake in this prosecution. Willis and Wade say she reimbursed him in cash. Defense attorneys like Craig Gillen were skeptical, as you can hear in this exchange with Wade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAIG GILLEN: You don't have a single solitary deposit slip to corroborate or support any of your allegations that you were paid by Mrs. Willis in cash, do you?

NATHAN WADE: No, sir.

GILLEN: Not a single solitary one.

WADE: Not a one.

GRINGLAS: Wade says he didn't have a paper trail for this money because he spent it.

MARTIN: So now you've got prosecutors with one version of events and you've got these defense lawyers with another. What does a judge do with that?

GRINGLAS: Last night, I called up a law professor who was actually sitting right behind me in court, Georgia State University's Anthony Michael Kreis. This is his take.

ANTHONY MICHAEL KREIS: The evidentiary testimony that we heard today was essentially not terribly revealing. What this is essentially boiling down to is a battle of credibility.

GRINGLAS: So not only will Judge Scott McAfee have to weigh what legal standard to use here, you know, an actual conflict versus an appearance of conflict, he's also got to judge the facts themselves. Look, the window is already narrow for Trump and his co-defendants to stand trial before the next election, and delays from disqualification or appeals could make that opening even smaller. And I think this underscores, despite the seemingly tabloid nature of this story, the stakes are quite high.

MARTIN: That is WABE's Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Sam, thank you.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.