April 23, 2024

The Fulton County District Attorney’s office filed a response Friday to an analysis filed by former President Donald Trump’s lawyers of phone records that purport to raise questions about the timeline D.A. Fani Willis gave regarding when her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade began. 

Trump’s attorneys filed an analysis Friday of cellphone data that allegedly belongs to Wade as part of their motion to disqualify D.A. Fani Willis and her office from prosecuting the Trump 2020 Georgia election interference case. The defense team seeks to use the data to show that Wade was at the condominium where Willis was living late at night and well into the early morning hours on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, 2021, and Nov. 29 and Nov. 30 of that same year. Willis acknowledged the romantic relationship in court papers, and both Wade and Willis testified under oath last week that their romantic relationship did not begin until early 2022, after Willis hired Wade to work on the Georgia election case. 

A source close to Willis said lawyers in her office are trying to challenge the interpretation of the data filed by Trump’s lawyers. If the data analysis is proven to be accurate, it might serve as powerful evidence that Wade and Willis misled the court about when their relationship began.  

In Willis’ filing, the district attorney objected to the defense’s document and requested that the court exclude the data, arguing that it “contains both 2 telephone records that have not been admitted into evidence and an affidavit and other documents containing unqualified opinion evidence.” Willis said in the filing that Trump had not provided enough written notice to the court or a summary of its “purported expert’s testimony” and offered no information on the witness’ qualifications to serve as an expert witness.  

Willis also asserted that the phone records themselves had not been authenticated and contended that the records “do not prove, in any way, the content of the communications between Special Prosecutor Wade and District Attorney Willis.” They don’t prove that the two “were ever in the same place during any of the times listed,” she wrote, and she also stated that “on multiple relevant dates and times, evidence clearly demonstrates that District Attorney Willis was elsewhere, including at work at the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office” and visiting “three crime scenes.” 

The Trump team’s analysis was conducted by a private investigator who used a geofencing analytics tool called CellHawk, which the investigator called the “gold standard” in cellphone records analysis. 

Defense lawyers in the case have been trying to prove that Willis entered into a corrupt bargain with Wade during their romantic relationship to place him on the prosecution team, pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars, so that the two of them could benefit financially. 

On Friday, lawyers for the D.A.’s office were trying to find their own expert witnesses who would be able to counter what the Trump lawyers have asserted, according to the source. Their hope is to be able to file a response as early as Friday or this weekend.  

“The interpretation of the data is not what you think it is,” the source told CBS News. 

Lawyers for the D.A.’s office are not expected to claim that Wade did not visit the condo on multiple occasions — indeed both Wade and Willis have testified that Willis was there as many as 10 times — but they will maintain that the relationship had not developed into a romance during that period.  

The source also says that it was not uncommon for Willis to hold work meetings at the condo. Wade wasn’t working in the D.A.’s office until November of 2021, but the source says he was part of her “kitchen cabinet” before that. In one meeting, according to the source, Wade was involved in discussions about the Atlanta spa shooting case in which eight people were allegedly shot to death by a disturbed 21-year old gunman. 

At the end of the two-day hearing last week, Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee questioned defense lawyers on whether they had any other witnesses or evidence they planned to introduce. Only Trump’s lawyer, Steven Sadow, did. He informed McAfee that the defense had obtained cellphone records that he wanted to make part of the record. The records, he indicated, related to his questioning of Wade about visits to the condo and said they dealt with the period between February and November 2021.  

“Based on our preliminary research,” Sadow said, “we’d like to re-open and be able to introduce the records and someone to explain what they mean.” 

Judge McAfee was noncommittal. But should the D.A.’s office further respond with evidence that counters the cellphone data introduced by Sadow, McAfee could extend the evidentiary hearing, rather than proceed immediately to closing arguments, which are currently scheduled for March 1.

Should that happen, the two sides will argue over the reliability of the data and whose interpretation is correct. But the critical question, which could determine Willis’ fate in the case, is whether the judge believes the Fulton County D.A. misled the court, legal experts say.  

Willis’ most ardent defenders are continuing to rally to her side. In an interview with CBS News, Norman Eisen, a lawyer and former Obama administration ethics czar, questioned the reliability of cellphone data and the defense tactics.  

“This kind of data is unreliable, as shown by a similar failed effort in the 2020 Mules case,” Eisen said, referring to a case that involved false claims made by election deniers in 2020 to use drop boxes to commit voter fraud. Moreover, Eisen said that the issue should have been raised earlier “when it could have been tested,” by Willis’ lawyers. Still, Eisen acknowledged that “as a general matter judges always care about the honesty of those appearing before them,” before noting that in this case the defense is “attempting to cross a bridge too far – and one that rests on shaky foundations.”    

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