Testimony at Lev Parnas Trial Offers Peek at His Place in Trump’s Orbit
Adam Laxalt was a Republican candidate for governor of Nevada in 2018 when he bumped into Rudolph W. Giuliani in a ballroom at the Trump …
Adam Laxalt was a Republican candidate for governor of Nevada in 2018 when he bumped into Rudolph W. Giuliani in a ballroom at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
Mr. Laxalt, who, like Mr. Giuliani, was a staunch supporter of President Donald J. Trump, accompanied Mr. Giuliani to a balcony, and told him that the governor’s race was “very close.”
Among a group smoking cigars and having drinks, someone Mr. Laxalt did not know spoke up: It was Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman.
“He immediately offered to help my campaign,” Mr. Laxalt said on Friday while testifying as a prosecution witness at Mr. Parnas’s corruption trial in federal court in Manhattan. “He offered to throw a fund-raiser.”
Mr. Parnas is charged with conspiring to make campaign contributions by a foreign national and in the name of a person other than himself. Among the contributions at issue is one made in the maximum amount, $2,700, to Mr. Laxalt in 2018. An indictment says Mr. Parnas made the contribution using a credit card belonging to a business partner, Igor Fruman, and another person.
Later, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman became known for helping Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, as he oversaw an effort in Ukraine to uncover damaging information about Joe Biden, at the time a leading Democratic presidential candidate who went on to beat Mr. Trump in the 2020 election.
Mr. Laxalt’s testimony illustrated how thoroughly Mr. Parnas appeared to have installed himself in Mr. Trump’s orbit. Mr. Laxalt was a co-chair of Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign in Nevada and he supported an effort to overturn Mr. Trump’s loss there.
The interactions between Mr. Laxalt, who is currently running for a U.S. Senate seat in Nevada, and Mr. Parnas also provided a glimpse into the life of a political candidate eager to keep money flowing to his campaign.
Although Mr. Laxalt is well known in Nevada — his grandfather was Paul Laxalt, a U.S. senator from the state — he testified that his race against Steve Sisolak, the Democrat who ultimately prevailed, was a “long, grueling, very tense” experience.
The day after the meeting at the Trump hotel, Mr. Laxalt testified that he and Mr. Parnas exchanged text messages and that he believed some of them were related to plans to attend a rally that was to include Mike Pence, the vice president at the time.
The text exchanges continued for weeks. A pattern emerged, in which Mr. Laxalt asked Mr. Parnas about donations, and Mr. Parnas provided responses that were short on commitment.
Mr. Laxalt’s apparent friendliness in his messages to Mr. Parnas may have been partly professional. On cross-examination, he acknowledged that he had referred to Mr. Parnas as “a clownish guy with a gold chain,” and wondered whether he was an oddball from Brooklyn with a home in Florida who was more interested in taking photos with candidates than in writing checks to them.
“Are you going to deliver on this fund-raiser,” Mr. Laxalt texted Mr. Parnas at one point. Mr. Parnas suggested some possible dates. But they passed without the event taking place.
Mr. Laxalt testified that he encountered Mr. Parnas at a rally for Mr. Trump in Elko, Nev. They also arranged to have dinner, along with a few others, at a restaurant in Las Vegas that Mr. Laxalt described in a text message to Mr. Parnas as “an old mob joint.” (Mr. Parnas responded ‘love it” and included a thumb’s up emoji.)
At times, the two exchanged comments about the campaign of Ron DeSantis, a good friend of Mr. Laxalt’s whom Mr. Parnas was also supporting as he ran for governor of Florida.
As the election neared, Mr. Laxalt kept inquiring about money. Mr. Parnas said he would bring Mr. Giuliani to Nevada to barnstorm on Mr. Laxalt’s behalf. Mr. Parnas also asked Mr. Laxalt whether he would like help in arranging a robocall.
Eventually, Mr. Parnas told Mr. Laxalt by text that he could arrange for donations totaling $20,000 from three people. Mr. Laxalt was appreciative but he asked whether Mr. Parnas himself was going to donate.
“I can’t,” Mr. Parnas replied, citing a Federal Election Commission matter, an apparent reference to a complaint that a $325,000 donation to a super PAC supporting Mr. Trump, America First Action, by an energy company started by Mr. Fruman and Mr. Parnas had broken the law.
“My attorney won’t allow it,” Mr. Parnas wrote to Mr. Laxalt, adding that he had tried to get his wife to donate but that his lawyer had also vetoed that idea.
A short time later, on Nov. 1, 2018, less than a week before Election Day, Mr. Laxalt’s campaign received a $10,000 donation from Mr. Fruman.
Mr. Laxalt said during his testimony on Friday that he was suspicious of the donation and, on the “advice of counsel,” had decided to send a check in that amount to the U.S. Treasury.