As Mike Roman spoke to a gathering of fellow conservative activists in March 2022, he offered a glimpse of the intelligence-gathering skills he had honed over the previous decade working as an opposition researcher for Donald Trump and Republican megadonors.
“I show my wife this all the time when we go to a hotel,” Roman told the crowd in Harrisburg, Pa., according to an audio recording reviewed by The Washington Post. “She logs on to the Hilton WiFi, and I go on and I ‘tap, tap, tap,’ and I show her everybody else that’s on there and how we could get into their computer.”
After spending years digging in the shadows, Roman is now in the spotlight, having landed a damaging blow to the racketeering case that Georgia prosecutors are pursuing against Trump and more than a dozen others — including Roman — for trying to overturn the 2020 election. Roman has pleaded not guilty.
In a bombshell legal filing on Jan. 8, Roman’s attorney alleged that Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), who is heading the prosecution, is in a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, an outside lawyer she hired for the case. While Wade’s firm was receiving more than $650,000 in public funds, Wade — who has been embroiled in a messy divorce — was paying for vacations with Willis in the Caribbean and elsewhere, according to Roman, who alleges that Willis improperly benefited.
In a court filing Friday, Willis acknowledged a “personal relationship” with Wade. The filing, including an affidavit by Wade, said the relationship began after she hired him and has not tainted the prosecution or provided her with any financial benefit.
Roman has asked a judge to toss out his indictment and disqualify both prosecutors from the case, a request that will be the subject of a hearing scheduled for Feb. 15. Whatever its outcome, the salacious allegations have already given Trump ammunition for attacks aimed at discrediting the prosecution. “When is Fani going to drop the case,” he asked on social media, “or should it be dropped for her?”
Roman’s defense attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, told The Post in a brief exchange that she, rather than her client, unearthed the information that underpins the claims against Willis and Wade. Roman has embraced the move: When fellow conservative operatives wrote on X that Roman was “the guy who busted Fani Willis” and that his 127-page court filing was “an object lesson in why you don’t indict the oppo guy,” he clicked like on the posts.
Over a career as a political operative and investigator, including for the conservative Koch brothers’ network, he has been described as intensely private and driven in his work. He has hired former CIA analysts to train his staff, arranged for drones to surveil campaign rallies and used military terminology, according to former colleagues. While working for Trump in 2020, he recruited poll-watchers for what the campaign called the “Army for Trump,” oversaw election-day operations and played a key role in organizing the “alternate elector plan” that is central to the charges in Fulton County, records show.
Merchant declined to answer detailed questions for this article. Roman did not respond.
Roman, 52, climbed to the upper echelons of Republican politics from hardscrabble beginnings in North Philadelphia, in a strongly Catholic blue-collar neighborhood within the city’s so-called “Badlands.”
“Mike’s got street smarts,” Philadelphia lawyer Bruce S. Marks, a friend of Roman’s for more than 30 years, told The Post in 2020. “He’s not some Ivy League guy with a bow-tie.”
Roman got a break in politics in 1993 knocking on doors for Marks’s Republican campaign for the Pennsylvania state Senate. Marks appeared to lose in a close race, but overturned the result in federal court by proving that his Democratic opponent benefited from fraudulent absentee ballots. The case caused Roman to fixate on voter fraud years before it became central to Republican politics.
“At that point, I was just absolutely hooked on election security, and I’ve been doing that ever since,” Roman said at the March 2022 event in Harrisburg, held by the Conservative Partnership Institute. A recording of it was obtained by Documented, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, which shared it with The Post.
By 2000, Roman was working for the Pennsylvania Republican Party. Michael DuHaime, a veteran GOP consultant who got to know Roman 20 years ago, said Roman’s upbringing as a Republican in Philadelphia’s bare-knuckle ward politics, historically dominated by Democrats, made him extraordinarily suspicious of Election Day chicanery.
“He’s tough as nails,” said DuHaime. “He was content to not be super well-known, and he didn’t do the networking that a lot of people do.”
In 2008, Roman launched an independent website dedicated to exposing election “fraud, cheating and dirty tricks.” A video he published showing members of the New Black Panther party outside a Philadelphia polling place, one holding a billy club, was picked up by Fox News and sparked a years-long controversy.
During the 2008 campaign, Roman worked for the presidential campaigns of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The campaigns paid him and a small consulting firm he had formed a total of more than $142,000 in pay and expenses, according to campaign finance reports.
Around that time, Roman was sued several times over small debts, court records show. As the global economy collapsed, Roman and his partner, Adrienne McAllister, fell behind on repaying their mortgage. In July 2009, their lender moved to foreclose on their modest Philadelphia house.
Two months later, McAllister filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows a filer to repay debts through monthly installments and can protect against foreclosure. McAllister reported in her bankruptcy filings that she and Roman owed more than $12,400 in overdue mortgage payments and that she owed thousands in other debts. She would file for bankruptcy four more times over the next decade, even as Roman in some years received six-figure incomes.
McAllister did not respond to questions.
Roman and McAllister have seven children together, according to court records and social media posts. They have long referred to each other online and to some friends as husband and wife. “I’m sure they’re married,” Marks said. “No, I did not go to the wedding.”
But across her five bankruptcy petitions, McAllister described Roman as her “live-in boyfriend” or the father of her children, and wrote that he contributed between $2,100 and $5,500 per month to help cover household expenses. Roman would later give his marital status as “single” to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office when he was booked on the charges in Georgia. The Post was unable to find any official record suggesting that they ever wed.
If they were married, McAllister would have been required to disclose Roman’s income in her bankruptcy filing and to pay more each month toward her debts, according to bankruptcy attorneys.
Around the time of McAllister’s first bankruptcy proceeding, Roman began working for the Public Engagement Group Trust, a little-known firm in Arlington, Va., that said it aimed to raise public awareness of government spending and free markets. Its tax returns show that Roman was paid $180,000 between July 2011 and June 2013 to work as trustee.
The trust was part of a network of conservative nonprofits backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, The Post has previously reported. In November 2013, according to disclosure forms he later filed as a Trump appointee, Roman switched to a higher-profile arm of the Kochs’ political empire: Freedom Partners, a conservative political advocacy giant, which in the previous year had reported revenue of $255 million. He served as vice president of research, earning $286,377 in 2014, according to the organization’s tax return.
The bland job title belied the aggressive purpose of the unit he led, which Politico dubbed“the Koch intelligence agency.”
Roman’s unit compiled a “Weekly Intelligence Briefing,” with information about political races and recommendations about where the network’s donors should contribute, according to a person who worked there with Roman and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the organization’s internal operations.
Roman was instructed by the Koch network’s leadership to keep the unit under wraps and seemed to relish the task, the person said. “He was like, ‘If you want us to be secretive, we’ll be secretive.’”
Freedom Partners was later folded into other parts of the Koch network. In response to questions from The Post about Roman’s work, a network spokesman said that “the department carried out standard policy and political research that you typically see in campaigns.”
Roman insisted on housing the unit, which grew to about two dozen people, in a windowless office near the Koch network’s main offices in Arlington, the person said. There, Roman became suspicious that an environmental group with an office on the same floor might be monitoring them, the person added. Roman researched the group but found nothing to substantiate his suspicions, according to the person.
“Mike wasn’t afraid about being aggressive,” the person said, adding that Roman’s concern was partly justified because left-leaning advocacy groups routinely tried to dig up damaging information about the Koch network.
Members of Roman’s unit were also tasked with attending donor retreats to make sure that liberal activists did not infiltrate the gatherings and that no sensitive documents were left behind, the person said.
Roman brought in former CIA analysts to train the team, the person said, and purchased a drone the unit used to surveil political rallies in Virginia’s 2013 gubernatorial race.
In 2016, Roman worked for Trump’s long-shot presidential campaign, overseeing volunteers who observed at the polls on Election Day to look for irregularities. When Trump won, Roman joined the transition team.
Roman was made a special assistant to the president and White House director of special projects and research, reporting to then-White House counsel Donald McGahn and earning $115,000 per year. Roman was a private investigator of sorts for McGahn’s office, responsible for vetting potentially controversial nominations, according to a former senior administration official.
“It would be like, ‘We’ve heard an appointee might have a shady business deal,’ or ‘Counsel is hearing something about a presidential nominee that could cause a huge problem for us. Can you figure it out?’” the former official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive White House work.
As he joined the White House in January 2017, Roman reported to government ethics regulators that he had received more than $505,000 in pay and severance for his work at Freedom Partners and as a political consultant during 2016.
Eleven days after he signed his ethics report, Roman also signed an official declaration that he and McAllister were “experiencing a financial hardship.” The declaration, part of an application to an Obama-era federal program to help struggling homeowners, was submitted in one of McAllister’s bankruptcies. The couple secured a reduced interest rate and a lengthened 40-year repayment period, according to another document filed in that bankruptcy, but the couple’s lender eventually succeeded in foreclosing on their house and sold it.
For the 2020 election campaign, Roman was responsible for Trump election integrity efforts. He was charged with recruiting thousands of poll watchers and ensuring that a network of pro-Trump lawyers were ready to sue state authorities, a former senior campaign official said.
“We had 50,000 volunteers signed up and trained, 10,000 lawyers that had been recruited,” the former campaign official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly for the campaign. “It’s the best Republicans have ever done on this by multitudes.”
As director of Election Day operations, Roman scooped up intelligence from his network of observers around the nation, hunting for reports of irregularities. He warned in a September 2020 radio interview that far-left activists could destroy Trump ballots, and he stoked claims of fraud in Election Day tweets about Democrats in Philadelphia. “They are stealing it,” he wrote in one post.
After Trump lost in 2020, Roman was deeply involved in the president’s efforts to overturn the result, participating in activities that Georgia prosecutors allege amounted to racketeering.
Working alongside some of Trump’s lawyers and top aides, Roman helped coordinate the alternate elector plan in which Republicans in states Biden won signed official-looking paperwork purporting to cast electoral college votes for Trump instead. Emails circulated by Roman about the plan, including a detailed spreadsheet tracking the effort in several states, were later published by the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. When asked in a committee interview about his post-election activities, Roman repeatedly invoked his rights under the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination.
In Fulton County, Roman is charged with seven counts, including conspiring to impersonate a public officer, to commit first-degree forgery and to file false documents. Following his indictment in August, he organized an online fundraising campaign to pay for his defense against what he described as the “highly partisan, media hungry District Attorney.” So far he has raised $59,000 toward a goal of $300,000.
Going on the offense against the prosecutor was a trademark Roman tactic, according to the former senior official on Trump’s 2020 campaign. “This is a classic Mike Roman move,” the former official said. “When I saw the filing, I said, ‘That’s Mike.’ It’s a good one.”
Holly Bailey contributed to this report.