Texts show prosecutor’s ex-law partner gave info for effort to remove Fani Willis from election case

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ATLANTA (AP) — Attorneys for Donald Trump and other defendants in the Georgia election interference case hoped that lawyer Terrence Bradley would provide key testimony in support of their effort to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis — and they had good reason for their optimism.

Over several months, Bradley had been in touch with Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer for Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, according to hundreds of text messages produced by Merchant as evidence and obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Through the texts, Bradley fed Merchant information and made suggestions to help her prove that Willis had dated Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor hired for the election case. As Wade’s former law partner and onetime divorce attorney, Bradley was well positioned to know things, and the texts seem to back that up.

But when he took the stand to testify under oath in mid-February, Bradley initially refused to answer most questions, asserting attorney-client privilege. On Tuesday, when the judge compelled him to testify after determining some of his communications with Wade weren’t privileged, he repeatedly said he didn’t know or couldn’t remember crucial details. CNN reported on the text messages Wednesday.

Merchant filed a motion Jan. 8 seeking to remove Willis and Wade and their offices from the election case and to toss out the indictment against Trump and 14 others. She alleged that the prosecutors had been romantically involved before Wade was hired in November 2021, and she said Willis paid Wade large sums, then improperly benefited from his earnings when he took her on vacations.

“I am nervous,” Merchant texted Bradley the day she filed her motion, adding, “This is huge.”

He responded with a string of encouraging messages: “You are huge,” “You will be fine,” “You are one of the best lawyers I know,” “Go be great.”

The text exchanges show that Bradley willingly provided information to Merchant at least from mid-September through early February. But when Merchant questioned Bradley on Tuesday, asking whether he remembered telling her certain things, he said he did not, said he had been speculating or said she misinterpreted his messages.

“I have no direct knowledge of when the relationship started,” Bradley said on the stand, repeating versions of that several times throughout the hearing.

Visibly frustrated at one point, Merchant told Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, “Judge, he doesn’t remember much of anything right now.”

McAfee has scheduled arguments for Friday on the motions to disqualify Willis and her office from the election case. It’s not clear whether attorneys for Trump and some of his co-defendants have met their burden of showing that Willis and Wade’s relationship created a conflict of interest.

Willis and Wade acknowledged the relationship in February, but said it began after Wade was hired and that it ended last summer. Both insist the relationship did not create a conflict and had no bearing on the election interference case.

A Fulton County grand jury in August indicted Trump and 18 others on charges related to their efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, won by President Joe Biden. But the details of Willis and Wade’s relationship have completely overshadowed those charges for nearly two months and may continue to be a distraction even if the judge doesn’t remove Willis and her office from the case.

Early in the text exchanges, on Sept. 18, Merchant asked Bradley if he knew of anyone who would be willing to write a sworn statement on Willis and Wade’s relationship.

He responded: “No…no one would freely burn that bridge.”

In mid-December, Merchant texted Bradley to say she had gotten “more confirmation about fani and Nathan” but couldn’t get anyone to go on the record.

On Jan. 5, just three days before she filed her motion, Merchant texted Bradley that Wade had taken Willis on a cruise and a trip to Napa Valley in California, saying she assumed Bradley knew about it. He responded that he didn’t and asked when the trips happened. But then he said it didn’t surprise him, adding that they had taken other trips together.

That same day, Merchant asked whether Bradley believed the relationship started before Willis hired Wade and he responded, “Absolutely.”

The next day, they discussed a draft of her motion that she had sent him. He said she should include money he had been paid by Willis’ office in a footnote detailing money paid to Wade’s firm.

After she made that change, she asked, “Anything else? Anything that isn’t accurate?”

He responded, “Looks good.”

That specific exchange was the source of much frustration among defense attorneys at Tuesday’s hearing. They grilled Bradley about why he had written that, only to insist on the stand that he couldn’t remember important information that was included in the motion.

The texts show Bradley confirming information for Merchant and suggesting records she should request or people she should subpoena. Though he sometimes seemed to want to make sure certain information couldn’t be traced to him, he said he was “ok with” being subpoenaed to testify.

Merchant assured him before filing her motion that she had protected him “completely,” adding, “Not that you needed protection.” She said she planned to put Willis and Wade on the stand and was sending subpoenas to Bradley and others only as backup.

“It is my hope they do the right thing before then,” Merchant wrote on Jan. 24. Bradley said he didn’t think they would, calling Willis and Wade “arrogant.”

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