The Georgia election subversion case against Donald Trump and 14 of his allies took a stunning turn Thursday when two top prosecutors testified under oath about their romantic relationship at a hearing triggered by allegations of self-dealing that have the potential to derail the entire effort.

The all-day hearing escalated steadily throughout the day, culminating with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis taking the witness stand for a combative brawl with defense attorneys that drew several rebukes from the judge.

Judge Scott McAfee convened the hearing after some of Trump’s co-defendants surfaced allegations of a relationship between Willis and Nathan Wade, whom she hired in 2021 to join the prosecution team. Trump and his co-defendants want the judge to disqualify Willis’ team from the case – or throw out the charges – because of a possible conflict-of-interest.

There was talk of cash exchanging hands from Willis to Wade, where they store their money at home, CashApp usage, and their spending habits – all to get to the question of whether Willis benefitted financially from putting him on her staff.

The hearing will continue Friday with Willis still on the stand. The judge said he does not plan to issue a ruling on Friday.

Here are takeaways from the hearing that was at times jaw-dropping, awkward and strikingly personal.

Willis’ defiant afternoon on the stand

What unfolded on Thursday is extremely rare in American courtrooms. The district attorney who has charged Trump with racketeering went under oath to defend her ethics and answer personal questions about her relationship with Wade.

The risks could not be greater, and Willis’ credibility is on the line.

Things quickly went off the rails. Willis didn’t act much like a traditional witness and was more like a prosecutor, arguing with the defense attorneys, raising objections, making legal arguments and even having exchanges with the judge. She even raised her voice at one point.

This led to a few rebukes from McAfee, who urged her and other attorneys in the courtroom to maintain “professionalism” and to not “talk over each other.”

Willis repeatedly accused some of the defense attorneys of peddling lies – before and after the judge’s admonishment.

“You’ve lied in this. … I think you lied right here,” Willis said to attorney Ashleigh Merchant, pointing to copies of filings that raised accusations of self-dealing and nepotism.

Willis seized several opportunities to defend herself.

The district attorney had fought efforts to make her appear, both in Wade’s ongoing divorce proceedings and in the hearing on Thursday, up until the moment she came into the room to take the stand. She said at the beginning of her testimony that she was “very anxious” to defend herself, “so I ran to the courtroom.”

“You think I’m on trial,” Willis said, in her sharpest pushback of the day. “These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020,” she added, pointing toward the table of attorneys representing defendants in the criminal case. “I’m not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.”

She later slammed the defense attorneys, calling them “confused” and “intrusive.”

“Ms. Merchant’s interests are contrary to democracy, not to mine,” Willis said, attacking the attorney for Trump campaign attorney Michael Roman, who is accused of playing a leading role in the multi-state “fake electors” plot to subvert the Electoral College.

Hear what legal expert thinks about Fani Willis’ testimony

On the stand, Wade stuck to his earlier claim – in a sworn affidavit submitted to the court – that his romantic relationship with Willis began in early 2022 and that they split travel and vacation expenses.

But Robin Bryant-Yeartie, a former friend of Willis and Fulton County employee, contradicted that claim, testifying that she had “no doubt” that the Willis-Wade affair began in late 2019. Notably, that would be before Willis hired Wade to lead the Trump probe in late 2021.

Bryant-Yeartie said she observed “hugging, kissing, close affection” between Willis and Wade prior to 2022, when they claimed their romantic relationship began. She also testified that Willis had told her in 2020 and 2021 that she was dating Wade.

There was some Clinton-esque parsing of words on whether Wade cheated on his ex-wife by being with Willis. Past filings from Roman’s team salaciously noted that she had been dating “a married man.”

Wade testified that his previous marriage was broken since 2015, long before his relationship with Willis began, saying, “My marriage was irretrievably broken” in 2015, and “I was free to have a relationship.”

Wade and Willis describe using cash for reimbursements

Wade and Willis have offered a simple explanation for why there’s essentially no paper trail to back up his claims they split expenses: Willis used cash.

Credit card statements submitted in Wade’s divorce proceedings show he paid for two flights for them in recent years, to San Francisco and Miami. They also took lavish trips to Belize, the Bahamas and some Caribbean cruises.

When pressed on whether he paid for Willis’ travel when they vacationed together, Wade said that Willis reimbursed him for a flight “in cash.” Wade said he did not have receipts for all of the times Willis reimbursed him for trips – pushing back against the allegations from the defense side that Willis was essentially getting kickbacks from him in the form of vacations.

“I did not deposit the cash in my account,” Wade replied, smirking at times.

Defense attorney Craig Gillen, who represents one of the fake electors, grilled Wade on what he would do with the cash reimbursements – in at least one case, thousands of dollars.

“You don’t have a single solitary deposit slip to corroborate or support any of your allegations that you were paid by Ms. Willis in cash?” Gillen shot back, raising his voice slightly.

“No sir,” Wade said, to which Gillen replied: “Not a single solitary one?”

“Not a one,” Wade responded.

Willis: ‘I don’t need anybody to foot my bills’

There was also a dispute over when the relationship ended, and whether it had any impact on the decision to seek the massive RICO indictment against Trump and others in last August.

Both said the relationship ended in summer 2023. Willis implied that the physical component ended earlier in the summer, but that the two had a “tough conversation” that fully ended things afterward.

Trump lawyer Steven Sadow asked Willis about the breakup, eliciting an answer that revealed sexist remarks that Wade allegedly made to Willis in the past. She said, he “is used to women that, as he told me one time, ‘the only thing a woman can do for him is make him a sandwich.’” She explained that this was a part of their breakup – but it also was a defense to the self-dealing claims against her.

“We would have brutal arguments about the fact that ‘I am your equal,’” Willis said. “I don’t need anything from a man – a man is not a plan. A man is a companion. And so there was tension always in our relationship, which is why I would give him his money back.”

Willis added, “I don’t need anybody to foot my bills.”

Earlier, Sadow asked Wade during his own testimony whether the two had any “personal relationship at all” since their relationship ended, saying “and you know what I mean by that.”

Wade shot back, asking if Sadow meant “if I had intercourse with the district attorney.”

“We’re very good friends, probably closer than ever because of these attacks,” Wade said. “But if you’re asking me about specific intercourse, the answer is no.”

Nothing that happened Thursday undercut the factual allegations against Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, or the other GOP allies who are accused of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

But the hearing shifted the conversation away from those allegation and away from Trump’s legal woes for now.

Earlier in the day, a New York judge set the trial date for Trump’s historic first trial, in the hush-money criminal case, for March 25. But by the afternoon, that news was nearly washed away by the jaw-dropping testimony taking place in Atlanta and being beamed across the country on national television. (Unlike the New York case, cameras are allowed in Georgia courtrooms.)

While Willis will return to the stand for cross-examination on Friday, any benefit Trump receives may be short lived. Friday, a separate New York judge is expected to issue his decision in the Trump civil fraud case that’s an existential threat to his business.

State prosecutors want that judge to issue a $370 million fine against Trump, after finding that Trump and his company committed significant fraud against banks and insurers by lying about his net worth and assets. They also want Trump barred from doing business in New York.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Jason Morris, Nick Valencia, Hannah Rabinowitz, Maxime Tamsett, Shirin Faqiri, Jim Rogers, Sarah Davis, Eva Roytburg and Fabiana Chaparro contributed to this report.

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