Legal Experts Skeptical of Conflict of Interest Claim in Trump Georgia Case

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Several legal experts who observed Thursday’s hearing in the Georgia case against Donald J. Trump and his allies were doubtful that the defense’s questioning and witness testimonies demonstrated a clear conflict of interest on the issue of whether the Fulton County district attorney, Fani T. Willis, and the special prosecutor, Nathan J. Wade, benefited financially from their relationship and the prosecution.

But the experts added that the day’s proceedings nonetheless did not help the prosecutors overall.

“This has not been a good day for the D.A.’s office,” said Caren Morrison, a former federal prosecutor and an associate professor at Georgia State University College of Law.

The defense spent hours before Judge Scott McAfee probing the relationship and financial transactions between Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade, with a former friend of Ms. Willis’s testifying that the romantic relationship began before Mr. Wade was hired for the Georgia election interference case in November 2021. That contradicted the timeline presented by the prosecutors and the testimonies of Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis, who have said it began in early 2022.

“Even if the judge finds there has been no conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict, as a matter of public perception, this hearing has been damaging,” Ms. Morrison said. “The painstaking raking over of trips and bills and expenses does nothing to burnish either of their reputations and just gives a lot of fodder to critics of the case.”

Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University, said that the testimony and evidence presented on Thursday fell short of showing a conflict of interest about financial benefits, which he said was the “key issue” that, if proven, would require the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office to be disqualified from the case against Mr. Trump and his allies.

But he said the testimony of Robin Bryant-Yeartie that contradicted the prosecutors’ timeline could be a “major issue” for Ms. Willis if further evidence shows that she and Mr. Wade “have been less than forthcoming to the court.”

Overall, Mr. Kreis said, the hearing was “more drama than it was clarifying,” adding that “this is really going to come down to credibility and who Judge McAfee is inclined to believe.” He also said that Ms. Willis, who vigorously denied any of the defendants’ claims about the relationship, was “the most forceful witness so far.”

But Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University, said that simply being on the witness stand placed Ms. Willis in an awkward position.

She is “in a place that no person, let alone no prosecutor, wants to be in. Her judgment and integrity are being challenged in the most public way possible,” Ms. Levinson said.

Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and a former White House ethics lawyer, told The Times in an email that if there is credible evidence that Ms. Willis was not telling the truth to the judge, “that could be devastating for the case even if the matter is unrelated.”

“I’m not impressed with Willis and Wade’s poor judgment, which allowed the defense to take this case way off track,” Mr. Painter said. “I think they should spare us more and just step aside.”

The fact that the hearing was happening at all is a “huge boon for Trump,” Ms. Levinson said.

“Fairly or not, the more we hear about Willis’s personal relationship with Wade,” she said, adding, “the more the public’s faith in the fairness of this prosecution is shaken.”

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