Prosecution of Trump in Georgia Hangs in Balance as Hearing Begins

A judge in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump is hearing final arguments on Friday afternoon on a motion to disqualify the prosecutor who brought the case, Fani T. Willis, on the ground that a romantic relationship she had with a subordinate created a conflict of interest.

In their first line of attack on Friday, defense attorneys tried to set the bar low for disqualification, arguing that even the appearance of a conflict of interest could lead to the dismissal of Ms. Willis and her entire office from the case. The question could be pivotal to the outcome of whether the disqualification effort succeeds.

“We can demonstrate an appearance of a conflict of interest and that is sufficient,” John B. Merchant III, a lawyer for one of Mr. Trump’s co-defendants, Michael Roman, told the judge, Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court.

Judge McAfee is not likely to rule on the matter on Friday. Rather, the hearing, which started at 1 p.m., is allowing lawyers from the two sides to sum up their arguments over a salacious subplot to the election case — one that has already caused significant embarrassment and turmoil for Ms. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney. Details of her personal life have been spilled out in the Atlanta courthouse where she had hoped to put Mr. Trump and 14 co-defendants on trial as soon as this summer.

The stakes are high: If Ms. Willis is disqualified from the case, her entire office would be, too, and the case would probably be turned over to a district attorney from another jurisdiction. The new prosecutor could choose to continue the case as planned, modify the charges or drop them.

Disqualification would reduce the chances that a trial would begin before the November presidential election, in which Mr. Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee.

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