Attorney who exposed Fani Willis’ romantic relationship feels ‘vindicated’ by judge’s ruling

ATLANTA — The lawyer who started the effort to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the Georgia election interference case is talking about her investigation for the first time.

Last month, Ashleigh Merchant questioned Willis on the stand about her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

The judge ultimately allowed Willis to stay on the case, but Wade had to step down.

Now, Ashleigh Merchant told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that she feels vindicated following the judge’s ruling Friday.

“I had been under attack since I filed this. I have been called a liar multiple times. I’ve been called statements that were patently false. I’ve been under repeated attacks,” Merchant said. “Personally, Judge McAfee’s order vindicated me. But professionally, and for my duty to my client, I believe that we have a good appeal.”

Merchant told Winne that despite a high volume of high-profile cases in her career, she’s never experienced anything personally or professionally like the firestorm set in motion after she filed a motion revealing a romantic relationship between Willis and now-former election interference case special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

“You basically made the Fani Willis-Nathan Wade romance public?” Winne asked Merchant.

“Yes,” she said.

Merchant’s efforts to have the pair disqualified from the election interference case were on behalf of her client Michael Roman, whom she maintains is innocent.

“I think the truth needed to come to light and I’m all about transparency,” Merchant said.

“You’ve been intrusive into people’s personal lives. You’re confused, you think I’m on trial. These people on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020,” Willis told Merchant during testimony during a hearing about whether or not Willis should removed from the case.


Merchant said minutes before her interview with Winne, she hit send on Roman’s appeal McAfee’s order which provided that Willis and the DA’s office could stay in the case if Wade withdrew -- which he did.

She said she thinks they all should have been removed, though some of the judge’s conclusions vindicated the positions she had taken.

“This issue is so important that I think it mandates us trying to appeal it. It really governs the entire outcome of this case,” Merchant said.

Merchant alleges Willis’ mentions of race in a speech soon after the motion were tantamount to calling her racist.

“I hired one Black man. Another superstar a great friend and a great lawyer,” Willis said during that speech.

Though she did not refer to the defense lawyer in the speech, Merchant said she is not, and she’s been aching for the chance to clear her name.

“I have a job to do. I have to defend my client. If I uncover evidence that needs to come to light, whether it helps me personally and privately, I’ve got a duty,” Merchant said.

The prosecution suggested that “although District Attorney Willis and Special Prosecutor Wade have been professional associates and friends since 2019, there was no personal relationship between them in November 2021 at the time of Special Prosecutor Wade’s appointment”

“I’ve known Mr. Wade for many years, but myself and the other codefendants’ lawyers were wondering why Mr. Wade?” Merchant said.

Merchant said in August she spoke to attorney Manny Arora, who represented a co-defendant about rumblings of a romance between the prosecutors.

She said the key information in her motions on the issue came from Wade’s former law partner and former divorce attorney Terrance Bradley, who had spoken to Arora and to whom she spoke in person, by phone, and via text.

“I followed up with open records, followed up with trying to find witnesses and things like that,” Merchant said.

However, when he testified, he failed to corroborate the most important points.

“Watching Mr. Bradley testify was disappointing,” Merchant told Winne.

“Were you getting any resources for your investigation from the Trump camp?” Winne asked Merchant.

“No, I did this investigation myself. And there’s been a lot of speculation about that,” Merchant said. “Once everyone joined the motion, then everyone’s been extremely supportive, and I’ve had a much wider range of resources available to help litigate the motion.”

Winne contacted Bradley’s attorney for comment on this story.

Merchant said she and lawyers for all the defendants who joined the unsuccessful disqualification effort basically have filed the same appeal.

She said that the appeal first goes to McAfee, and he determines if he will pass it on to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

If he does, then the Court of Appeals accepts or rejects the idea of considering it.


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