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The latest in Trump's trials

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

On Thursday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed 176-page motion, which she admitted to having a relationship with prosecutor Nathan Wade. Willis hired Wade to lead Georgia's election interference case against former President Donald Trump and more than a dozen other defendants. And in the motion, Willis says there's no truth to the claims made by one of Trump's co-defendants that she had benefited financially from the relationship with Wade. It's Trump's Trials.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) We want Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: This is a persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He actually just stormed out of the courtroom.

(CROSSTALK)

JACK SMITH: Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

DETROW: This week, my colleague Miles Parks spoke with NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, as well as Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. Miles started out by asking Kim what she made of Willis' brief.

KIM WEHLE: Well, what I made of it is that there's a lot of resources now going to this sideshow. That's very unfortunate. When I say resources - there were lawyers that spent a lot of time filing this opposition brief about this relationship, appearance of a conflict of interest, between her and this prosecutor that she admits now in the filing she had an intimate relationship with. Two new facts - one is that she didn't have it, apparently, at the time he hired her, and some of the trips and things she paid for herself. Legally, they make a strong argument that this isn't a conflict of interest that would disqualify her. Usually, it has to be much stronger.

So it's not, I think, a basis for her to be disqualified, but it's damaging. You know, from the public's perspective, it just - an appearance of a lack of judgment, frankly. And once again, we're seeing in one of these cases, you know, a process just - that's just delaying things potentially. And that, for Donald Trump, who's a defendant obviously in this case as well as January 6 and two others, delay is his best friend. Delay is his best defense on the merits and the facts.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Right. Domenico, I mean, every time we talk about anything on this podcast, there's always the legal ramifications and the political ramifications, right? And so do we have any sense of what the political impact so far has been of what Willis disclosed yesterday?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah. And to just pick up on some of what Kim was saying, I mean, the fact is a lot of politics is about character. And part of what you want to do is disqualify somebody else's character to say that, you know, they aren't running something that's aboveboard. And if Trump can do that to muddy the waters, he can try to continue to make his case that, you know, he's being politically pursued and that this is just, you know, in his words, a witch hunt. This was or is one of the strongest cases against Trump. I mean, remember, he's on tape, like we heard, you know, trying to overturn the results of an election that he lost. So the fact that we're even discussing the nitty-gritty details of this personal relationship between Willis and Nathan Wade is the very kind of distraction meant to muddy the waters that Trump wants. You know, it could mean another delay where we potentially, you know, don't see a verdict before the election, which, by the way, lots of polls have shown that a conviction could make a difference with voters.

PARKS: Well, and it's not going away, right? I mean, I think that was one of my takeaways from this week, is we started seeing the snowball start to build because - at the Georgia state level and then also Congress. The House Judiciary Committee says they're going to subpoena her for a separate campaign finance matter. So there is this sense that Republicans at the state level and nationally are seizing on this. What do you think her future is long term? I mean, is it tenable for her to stay on this, Kim?

WEHLE: Well, there are two options. One is the judge takes her off, which I think on the law, as I indicated, is unlikely. Or she could resign. That would be option No. 2. Either way, it wouldn't make the case against Donald Trump go away, but it could delay it well past the election and create this impression, as we've been talking about, of corruption. The thing to keep in mind on the law as well, though, is that even if he wins the election in November legitimately and takes office in January, his ability to call off this prosecution as well as the Alvin Bragg one in Manhattan does not exist.

PARKS: Because it's at the state level, yeah.

WEHLE: With the federal claims, he can cancel them, right? He'll be in charge of the Justice Department. He does not have that power with the Georgia case. He does not have that power with the Manhattan trial, which probably will go before November. So even if she gets pulled off for one reason or another and he's in - wins the presidency, Georgia could still be prosecuting a sitting president.

PARKS: What do you think, Domenico? Do you think it's politically tenable for her to stay on?

MONTANARO: I mean, some are arguing that she should step aside and take leave because in Georgia, if a DA's disqualified, then their entire staff is disqualified. And it could bring the entire case to a halt. You know, if she were to step aside, that wouldn't happen. It could continue under someone on her staff, you know, in theory. So she's taken a bit of a risk sticking with this case. And even if she's disqualified and someone else is appointed by this panel that Kim was talking about, you know, would they prosecute it to the same extent? Would they have the same, you know, attempts at going after Trump or the strength or length of sentences that they would be seeking? It's a big question, you know? And Willis and Wade, by the way, don't show any signs of this point of stepping aside.

DETROW: That was Miles Parks speaking with senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, as well as constitutional law expert Kim Wehle. And be sure to tune in next week. It's a big week. We'll be covering the Supreme Court hearing oral arguments over whether or not Trump could be disqualified from being on the presidential ballot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.