“There was an agreement to bring Andrey Muraviev’s wealth and corruption into American politics,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagan Scotten told the jury in New York. “It is plain as day that these defendants agreed to donate Muraviev’s money to U.S. political campaigns. … There’s nothing wrong with being Russian and there’s nothing wrong in selling marijuana with a license. You just can’t donate to American politicians to get that license.”
Jurors heard during the trial from some recipients of the largesse of Parnas and his associates. One of those recipients, Adam Laxalt, is a former Nevada attorney general who is running to unseat Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.) next year.
No candidate or campaign has been charged with wrongdoing in the case, and prosecutors have said the political groups were unaware at the time that the donations were being given on behalf of others or that the money originated with Muraviev.
However, the picture of high-dollar political fundraising wasn’t flattering.
“They want help from politicians. … The politicians hanging out with Fruman and Parnas were raking it in just to meet with them,” Scotten said.
But despite the grip-and-grin photos, the men weren’t sincerely interested in politics. They were “acting like die-hard partisans when, in fact, they could care less about politics,” Scotten said.
Parnas’ attorney Joe Bondy said his client and others gave the donations under relentless pressure from Laxalt and other candidates and their aide.
“The fundraisers will come and strangle you and suck whatever they can out of you … all the strangler figs,” Bondy said. “Asking you, bludgeoning you, badgering you, chasing you for money, money, money money. … You don’t get to those events unless you pay the piper.”
Bondy asserted that all the donations at issue in the case, including $325,000 given to a pro-Trump super PAC, were legal.
“There was no effort to hide anything whatsoever. There was no effort to make a donation in the name of another person whatsoever,” the defense attorney said. “This is not some hidden payment through some shell company that’s designed to mislead. Poppycock!”
While the trial and the broader case have garnered attention because of the defendants’ tie to Giuliani, there was little, if any, mention of the former New York mayor and outspoken Trump defender in court on Thursday.
Giuliani has not been charged in the case and has denied any wrongdoing, but he was referenced on numerous occasions in evidence and testimony presented over the past couple of weeks. He is also hard to miss in a slew of photos prosecutors introduced as exhibits, showing Parnas and Giuliani barnstorming the country by private jet to support Republican candidates in advance of the 2018 election.
One of the photos depicts Parnas and Giuliani on the golf course, with both men sporting baseball caps emblazoned with the logo for “Fraud Guarantee,” a purported anti-fraud venture that prosecutors contend was itself fraudulent. Giuliani has acknowledged receiving $500,000 to advise the firm, but says he wasn’t aware of any fraud related to it.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Oetken agreed earlier this year to sever the fraud-related charge against Parnas from the trial that took place on the campaign finance charges over the past two weeks.
Following his arrest in 2018, Parnas was extensively debriefed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but the two sides never managed to strike a deal.
Parnas elected not to take the stand in his own defense after Oetken ruled that Parnas could be questioned about “Fraud Guarantee,” even though jurors have not been told that he is facing a separate federal fraud charge relating to that company.
The trial, held in a lower Manhattan courtroom fitted with Plexiglas boxes for coronavirus protection, has produced a series of unusually tense exchanges between the defense and prosecution.
After one such back-and-forth last week outside the presence of the jury, Bondy claimed that Scotten had asked FBI agents for “a sidearm” and “a bullet.” Scotten said it was a joking response to what he took as Bondy challenging him to a duel, but the defense lawyer said he’d done nothing of the sort and he took the comments as a threat.
Oetken said he didn’t think the prosecutor was serious, but he admonished both sides to watch their language.
That episode followed Bondy’s seeming to accuse prosecutors of injecting race into the case by playing a viral video included in a social media chat between the defendants.
At one point on Wednesday, during a session with the judge discussing jury instructions, Bondy described a prosecutor or his remarks as “just ignorant.”
There were few signs of the respect deficit on Thursday, but Bondy did, on at least three occasions in front of the jury, refer to Scotten as “Mr. Hagan.”
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