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'This is huge': Text messages show how move to disqualify DA Fani Willis developed

David Wickert, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — For months, Terrence Bradley guided a defense attorney as she fished for information that would help her disqualify Fani Willis from the Fulton County election interference case by proving the district attorney was dating Bradley’s onetime law partner.

Hundreds of text messages between Bradley and Ashleigh Merchant, which the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained Wednesday, provide a window into how the high-stakes effort to oust Willis took shape.

Bradley suggested people Merchant might subpoena who could testify Willis was in a romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. They gossiped about lawyers in the DA’s office. Bradley referred to Willis as “arrogant” and encouraged Merchant as she was preparing to file her blockbuster motion to disqualify the DA.

“I am nervous,” Merchant wrote on Jan. 8, the day she filed the motion. “This is huge.”

“You are huge. You will be fine. You are one of the best lawyers I know,” Bradley responded. “Go be great.”

Merchant’s motion has, indeed, proven to be huge. For seven weeks it has derailed the prosecution of former President Donald Trump and the other 14 remaining defendants in the case, including Merchant’s client, Michael Roman. If successful, it could substantially delay or even scuttle the case.


In the text messages, Merchant pledged to protect Bradley as a source of information for her motion — only to make him a star witness whose credibility is now in doubt.

Some of the texts between Bradley and Merchant were cited in court this week. On Wednesday the complete text string — which began on Sept. 14, 2023, and ended about three weeks ago — was shared with attorneys in the case and obtained by the Journal-Constitution.

The first reference to the Willis-Wade relationship in the messages comes on Sept. 19, when Merchant asked Bradley who might submit an affidavit about the Willis and Wade affair.

“No one would freely burn that bridge,” Bradley responded.


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