Nathan Wade, Lawyer Tapped to Prosecute Trump in Georgia, Under Scrutiny

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Before he became the special prosecutor leading the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump, Nathan Wade was working as a private defense lawyer and a judge for a municipal court in the Atlanta suburbs.

Now, Mr. Wade is accused of being romantically involved with the district attorney who hired him in 2021, Fani T. Willis. A court filing this week suggested their relationship was the reason she chose Mr. Wade for the high-paying job.

The filing, from a lawyer for one of Mr. Trump’s co-defendants, said that Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade had then used some of his earnings, which so far total more than $650,000, to vacation together in places including Napa Valley and the Caribbean.

Mr. Wade was largely unknown when Ms. Willis selected him to lead one of the highest-profile prosecutions in American history.

In the late 1990s, he was employed for about a year by the Cobb County Solicitor’s Office, which prosecutes misdemeanors and traffic citations. He appears to have had little prosecutorial experience beyond that, until now.

Later, as an associate judge in Marietta, an Atlanta suburb of about 60,000 residents, Mr. Wade presided over cases dealing with some misdemeanor crimes, traffic tickets, and violations of city ordinances.

He also ran unsuccessfully to be a judge in Cobb County Superior Court.

In 2020, Mr. Wade was chosen by the sheriff in Cobb County to investigate deaths at the jail there. In June of that year, Mr. Wade was quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying that he planned to issue a report about conditions at the jail. “If we find it, we’ll report it,” he said. “It’ll be written up.”

But in October 2020, he said during a court hearing that he had spent five months reviewing deaths at the jail and interviewing deputies but had not kept any written notes, according to 11 Alive, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta.

“I have obviously my brainchild, what’s going on in my mind about it,” he said. “That’s what I have.”

The appointment to the special prosecutor role in Fulton County has been lucrative for Mr. Wade. He has been paid $653,881 in total by the county from November 2021 through last month, according to records — an average of about $25,000 a month. In the legal filing this week, Ms. Merchant accused him of using some of that money to take vacations with Ms. Willis, saying they were “profiting significantly from this prosecution at the expense of the taxpayers.”

On Tuesday, the head of the Georgia Republican Party, Josh McKoon, said all criminal proceedings in the Trump case should be put on hold while the allegations against Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade are investigated.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday. The judge, Scott F. McAfee, scheduled the hearing before the allegations against Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade came to light.

The court papers containing the explosive allegations were filed by Ashleigh Merchant, a lawyer who is representing Michael Roman, who was one of 19 people charged in Fulton County over their efforts to overturn Mr. Trump’s 2020 election loss. Mr. Roman is a former Trump campaign official.

The papers did not include any proof of the relationship between the two prosecutors, but said that they had been seen “in a personal relationship capacity” around Atlanta and that people close to both prosecutors had confirmed their relationship.

Mr. Wade was appointed by Ms. Willis on Nov. 1, 2021, to lead the investigation into Mr. Trump’s and others’ efforts to overturn his election loss in Georgia. A day later, he filed for divorce from his wife of 24 years.

Many documents in Mr. Wade’s divorce case are sealed. But the available documents show that a judge cited him for contempt in August, saying he had not provided certain information during the discovery process despite being ordered to do so. Mr. Wade’s wife, Jocelyn Wade, has asked the court to order Mr. Wade to give her money, for legal and other expenses, while the divorce case proceeds. She has also accused him of withholding information about his finances.

This week, lawyers for Ms. Wade subpoenaed Ms. Willis to answer questions under oath in the divorce case. It is unclear if she will do so or what she would be asked.

Neither Ms. Willis nor Mr. Wade have responded to the allegations. A spokesman for Ms. Willis has said only that her office would respond in court. The allegations form the basis of a motion by Ms. Merchant to have the charges against her client thrown out, something that legal experts have said is unlikely.

Analysts said that there would likely be an investigation into the prosecutors’ relationship and the appointment of Mr. Wade, and that the controversy could erode the public’s trust in the election interference prosecution.

Ms. Merchant, in her motion, argued that the case should be dismissed in part because Ms. Willis’s office did not obtain authorization to hire Mr. Wade as a special prosecutor. But on Wednesday, the Fulton County attorney, Soo Jo, said through a spokeswoman that “county approval is not required in this state for a district attorney to appoint a special assistant district attorney in a specific case.”

In an interview in 2022, Ms. Willis said that she had chosen Mr. Wade for the Trump investigation because he was a trusted friend and would be able to take the criticism and scrutiny that would come with the job. She said he had served as her mentor when she worked briefly as chief magistrate judge for the City of South Fulton, an Atlanta suburb, beginning in 2019. Mr. Wade, she said, had been her teacher at a judge’s education class.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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