MANHATTAN (CN) — Pressed by the defense during cross-examination Friday morning, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt testified to having badgered Lev Parnas on a daily basis for last-minute campaign donations in 2018, even though the Republican candidate had considered the Ukrainian fundraiser to be a novice “clownish guy with a gold chain” and “a Brooklyn guy with a Florida home.”
The government’s six-count superseding indictment accuses Parnas, 49, and co-defendant Andrey Kukushikin, 48, of funneling $1 million from wealthy Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev, in two $500,000 political contributions as part of an effort to expand his legal marijuana businesses in the United States. Just $100,000 of "Big Andrey's" million dollars made its way into U.S. elections, prosecutors said during opening arguments on Wednesday.
Laxalt’s unsuccessful 2018 run for Nevada governor was one the multiple political campaigns that was the recipient of two $5,000 donations from another Giuliani associate, co-defendant Igor Fruman, that the Justice Department alleges were straw contributions from a Russian financier not permitted to fund U.S. campaigns.
Laxalt testified on Friday that he was first introduced to Parnas by Rudy Giuliani around the time of “an event with the then-vice president of the United States,” at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
During that meeting on a balcony overlooking the hotel’s glass-roof atrium, Parnas “immediately” offered to do fundraising for Laxalt’s campaign for Nevada governor during the final two months before the election, according to Laxalt's testimony.
Prosecutors have alleged that the $10,000 online donation to Laxalt’s campaign, assisted by Parnas and made under Fruman’s name, was actually from Muraviev, designed to facilitate obtaining a license for their recreational marijuana business.
While the $10,000 donation to the campaign was made under Fruman’s name, Laxalt could not recollect his name when shown pictures of them together at campaign events.
“Lev was always the guy who spoke the most,” Laxalt said. “I spoke with a number of his associates, but unfortunately I just can’t connect names to the faces.” Fruman, a co-defendant in the case’s original indictment, pleaded guilty last month and is awaiting sentencing.
Laxalt testified Friday that he opposed the legalization of cannabis, which became legal for recreational use in Nevada on January 1, 2017.
“I was certainly known to be not supportive of the expansion of recreational marijuana,” Laxalt said on cross-examination from Parnas’ attorney.
“It would make no sense to use your influence to assistance in any cannabis venture,” opined Joseph Bondy, defense counsel for Parnas who himself serves on the Board of Directors for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Laxalt testified on Friday that his opponent in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Stephen Sisolak who ultimately won, was “clearly the candidate that supported marijuana.”
Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged in connection with the straw-donor scheme. His Manhattan apartment and office were nevertheless raided by the FBI in May in connection with an ongoing probe related to the former New York City mayor's business dealings in Ukraine.
Laxalt, the former Nevada state attorney general and co-chair of Trump’s campaign in the state, has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump in his bid to unseat Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, which would flip power to Republicans in the swing state’s now-evenly split chamber.
Ahead of the 2022 midterms election, Laxalt has reiterated Trump’s baseless “Big Lie” claims about rigged elections and signaled that he would likely challenge election results in court.Follow @jruss_jruss
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.