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Catching up on the latest development in Trump's trial with DA Fani Willis


The legal web surrounding former President Donald Trump grew even more dense this week, with several developments and a couple of major decisions on the horizon. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us. Domenico, thanks so much for being with us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Glad to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with that 2020 election interference case in Georgia. The Fulton County district attorney is currently the one who faces allegations of misconduct. What's going on there? What does it have to do with Donald Trump?

MONTANARO: Yeah, the DA there, Fani Willis, acknowledged a, quote, "personal relationship" with another prosecutor working for her, Nathan Wade, in a motion that was filed on Friday. You know, this was in response to an allegation made by one of the co-defendants in this case that Willis was engaged in this personal relationship. The co-defendants' attorney, which was joined by Trump and his team, argues that this relationship creates a conflict of interest, alleging that Willis financially benefited from it and that she should be removed from the case.

SIMON: I understand how this is certainly - could be an ethical and workplace issue, that kind of relationship, but what about the allegation that the DA benefited financially from the case?

MONTANARO: Yeah, well, that argument from the Trump side stems from Wade having paid for vacations for himself and for Willis. Now, Wade argues that this whole thing is kind of ridiculous because he said in the filing that, no funds paid to me in compensation for my role as special prosecutor have been shared with or provided to District Attorney Willis. He points out that they're both financially independent professionals, that expenses and personal travel were roughly divided equally between us. In other words, sometimes he paid for trips, sometimes she did. But they don't cohabitate. They don't have a joint bank account. They don't pay household bills or daily expenses together.

But the fact that we're even discussing this, Scott, discussing this nitty-gritty facts of their own personal relationship, is the very kind of distraction that Trump wants and that could potentially threaten this case even just by delay. And this, you know, had been seen as one of the strongest cases against Trump. Remember he's on tape asking for one more vote than he lost by to try and overturn the results of an election he lost there.

SIMON: What could this inquiry into the conduct of the district attorney wind up meaning for the case against Donald Trump?

MONTANARO: Well, remember Willis had sought a trial date of August 5. That now looks unlikely to be the case that it stays at that point and probably gets delayed. A lot of people are wondering if it's possible that this case gets so delayed that it even might slip beyond the 2024 presidential election. You know, and if Willis is removed - and by the way, Willis' team points out in the filing that there are personal relationships going on between co-defendants' lawyers in this case who could possibly testify against each other. So...

SIMON: Oh, my.

MONTANARO: ...Creating personal potential conflicts for them. But, you know, look. If she is removed, is there another prosecutor who would even take up such a wide-ranging and politically fraught case? A really big open question here.

SIMON: Also, the federal case related to the 2020 presidential election is on a kind of pause. What's going on there?

MONTANARO: So this is the case brought by special prosecutor Jack Smith stemming from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A trial date had been set for March 4, but that's now been officially pushed back. That's because the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing whether Trump should have, full immunity since the insurrection took place while he was president. Now, he argues that his speech at the Ellipse that day that spurred the protesters to action at the Capitol was in keeping with his official duties. A three-judge panel seemed pretty skeptical of that argument but, you know, hasn't made an official decision yet. Until it does and then likely goes to the Supreme Court, the actual case can't proceed, so yet another delay.

SIMON: At the end of last year, we thought these trials were going to occur in the thick of the primaries. Obviously not true anymore, is it?

MONTANARO: No. And Trump appears to be wrapping up the nomination. And any chance at a verdict until at least the general election, you know, looks like it's less and less likely now. And that could mean a different set of political consequences for Trump, you know, if we do have a potential conviction or trial in the fall at some point. You know, general election voters view his conduct very differently from his base supporters, but every day that the timeline slips here for these cases, you know, all the better for Trump. You know, that's what he's looking to do.

Still, views of him are so locked in that it's really not clear that anything will make a difference electorally anyway. You know, it's not like these cases aren't having an impact, I should say. You know, the civil cases in New York against him seem to be pinching his pockets. You know, just last week, he had an $83 million verdict go against him for the writer E. Jean Carroll for the defamation case against Trump, having been found liable for sexually abusing her decades ago. So, you know, a lot of money for anyone.

SIMON: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.