Trump legal battle escalates as Willis decries ‘race card’ amid claims of ‘improper’ relationship

Though Donald Trump emerged victorious in the Iowa presidential caucus, winning an overwhelming majority of Republican primary voters, the former twice-impeached president still faces many legal battles, including four criminal indictments.

While Trump is celebrating his victory in the Hawkeye State, political experts note that it came amid a considerably low turnout. 

“This suggests that Trump and Republicans have some real fractures within their party that have still not yet been mended,” said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist, told theGrio. “MAGA is absolutely the language of the Republican party, but the Republican Party is nowhere near being unified behind Trump.”

Payne, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, highlighted exit polling of Iowa voters about his criminal cases that should “worry Trump and his allies.” 

“The fact that nearly 1/3 of Republican caucus-goers in red Iowa believe that a criminal prosecution is disqualifying for Trump signals big problems for Republicans heading into this election season running with Donald Trump at the top of their ticket,” he explained.

One of those cases is in Fulton County, Georgia, where District Attorney Fani Willis charged the former president with racketeering and conspiracy related to Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss to Joe Biden in the Peach State.

In recent days, however, Willis has faced controversy of her own after a co-defendant in the election case and former Trump campaign staffer Michael Roman, in a court filing, accused the district attorney of engaging in an “improper” relationship with the lead prosecutor in the case. 

Fulton County District Attorney Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade at the Fulton County Courthouse Oct. 20, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Getty Images)

To disqualify Willis and have the case tossed, Roman accused Nathan Wade of paying for vacations he allegedly took with Willis using funds his law firm received from his work on the Trump criminal case. The court filing indicated that information regarding the alleged relationship is included in Wade’s sealed divorce proceeding, which Roman’s attorney said she is working to unseal. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wade has been paid over $650,000 in legal fees since January 2022.

“You saw Fani Willis gave her boyfriend a million bucks to go get Trump, right?” said Trump while campaigning in Iowa on Sunday. “She’s been exposed. I can’t imagine they can continue on with that case.”

Willis, who was subpoenaed to testify in the divorce case, fired back against Trump and his Republican allies who seized on the allegations. While delivering a sermon at Big Bethel AME Church, marking the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Willis accused her critics of “playing the race card.” Noting that the two other special prosecutors in the case are white, she suggested that Wade is being targeted because he is Black.

“The Black man I chose has been a judge more than 10 years, [ran] a private practice more than 20 [years], represented businesses in civil litigation,” Willis told the congregation, adding that he also “served as a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer [and] special assistant attorney general.”

The district attorney continued, “The same Black man I hired was acceptable when a Republican in another county hired him and paid him twice the rate.” Willis queried, “Why is the white male Republican’s judgment good enough, but the Black female Democrat’s not?”

Juanita Tolliver, a political strategist, agrees that the attacks against Willis and Wade from the right are rooted in race. She pointed to a pattern of Trump having his most vitriolic statements directed toward Black prosecutors and judges, including Willis, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan. 

“It’s their basic MO at this point,” Tolliver told theGrio, noting that public ridicule has also come with “regular death threats, swatting, online attacks, attacks in the press [and] attacks on their character.”

Expressing concern about the “mental and emotional toll” the public attacks have had on Willis, she said, “That feeds into all of this.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis appears before Judge Scott McAfee for a hearing in the 2020 Georgia election interference case at the Fulton County Courthouse on Nov. 21, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Dennis Byron-Pool/Getty Images)

“If she’s in a safe space, a historic Black church, where she feels safe and comfortable – that was already on her calendar – I think it makes sense for her to speak in that explicit space.”

Tolliver also pointed out that long before the recent allegations, Republicans in Georgia sought to remove Willis from office for violating her oath of office. At the time, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp dismissed those calls, citing no evidence justifying such a move. However, amid the claims of an alleged improper relationship with the top prosecutor in the high-profile case, Kemp said it was “deeply troubling.”

“Republicans are looking to use this to try to deflect from the fact that … because Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election because he called the Georgia secretary of state and asked him to find 11,780 votes,” said Tolliver. “Attacking her is a way to try to get out of it.”

Anthony Coley, a legal analyst and former U.S. Department of Justice official, said of the standoff between Willis and the Trump world that “two things can be true at once.”

Given the fact that Willis did not directly deny any romantic relationship with Wade, he explained, “These allegations may, indeed, be racially motivated, but if the two are romantically involved, it could raise fair questions about the district attorney’s judgment.”

Coley continued, “While her remarks on Sunday are useful in shaping public opinion, her formal response to the court and whether or not she has or had a relationship with Mr. Wade of a personal nature will be more informative.”

He added, “What we know for sure is that these allegations are a distraction from the real issue: Her case against Trump and his co-codefendants, which remains rock solid.”

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Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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Donald Trump won the Iowa presidential caucus among Republican primary voters, but there was a low turnout, suggesting fractures within the Republican party. He also faces four criminal indictments, including one in Fulton County, Georgia. In recent days, there has been controversy surrounding the lead prosecutor in that case, District Attorney Fani Willis, with accusations of an improper relationship with a co-defendant and alleged financial impropriety.

Willis has fired back against these allegations, stating that the attacks against her are rooted in race and pointing to a pattern of Trump targeting Black prosecutors and judges. Political experts agree that the attacks are racially motivated and are an attempt to distract from the criminal case against Trump and his co-defendants. They also highlight the mental and emotional toll these attacks have on Willis.

Despite the controversy, legal analysts emphasize that the allegations against Willis are a distraction from the real issue, which is the criminal case against Trump and his co-defendants, which they consider to be rock solid. Overall, the situation is complex and will continue to unfold as the legal battles progress.

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