“I think we have to question the jurors individually,” said Joseph Bondy, Parnas’ attorney.
However, U.S. Assistant Attorney Hagan Scotten said the jury’s political views are largely irrelevant as long as those selected say they can decide the case based on the evidence rather than the roles of people like Trump and his attorney Giuliani who are not in the case.
“I think the question shouldn’t be: Do you have strong feelings about former President Donald Trump? Who doesn’t in a way? ”Said Scott.
The prosecution and the defendants also agreed on how prominent Trump and Giuliani should be in the trial.
“They will really only show up in passing,” insisted Scotten, saying the men were mostly mentioned in connection with grip-and-grins photos taken during fundraising drives. “We have a lot of images that go in this direction, that are part of the story. … I don’t think they are the focus of the case. “
However, Bondy predicted that Trump and Giuliani were mentioned more frequently in the process, which is expected to take at least a few weeks.
“Mr. Giuliani will show up because at some point Mr. Parnas started to travel with Mr. Giuliani,” said the defense attorney. “I think it will be quite common.”
Parnas and another Giuliani employee, Igor Fruman, were arrested in 2019 on campaign funding and fraud charges. The men worked with Giuliani on a deal known as a “Fraud Guarantee” and also played a role in a project that led to Trump’s first impeachment: an attempt to get Ukraine to announce an investigation into then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Giuliani was not charged in the case, but in April the FBI raided his office and home as part of a related investigation into possible violations of foreign agent registration laws.
Last month, Fruman pleaded guilty to soliciting funds from a foreigner for political campaigns in the United States.
Prosecutors allege that Parnas, Fruman and Kukushkin were involved in a plan that used money from Russian investor Andrey Muraviev to break down hurdles to a new, legal marijuana business by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for political causes performed.
During the hearing, which spanned more than two hours on Tuesday, the outlines of the defenses Parnas and Kukushkin are likely to deploy became clearer.
Parnas appears to be arguing that he did not know the details of federal campaign laws and therefore did not willfully break laws against foreign donations and withholding the name of the real source of money for a donation.
Kukushkin’s attorney Lefcourt said he wanted to argue that Parnas and Fruman were serial cheaters and that the real aim of their efforts was not to make political donations, but to cheat Kukushkin and Muraviev out of as much money as possible.
“There was no meeting of heads. It was a group trying to take advantage of another group, ”said the defender. “You stole the money. They always wanted to steal the money. “
Oetken signaled that he would allow this reasoning, but said he wasn’t sure it was really a defense for Kukushkin. It remains unclear whether the company “Fraud Guarantee”, which the judge previously ruled, should be dealt with in a separate proceeding. Giuliani received $ 500,000 for his work on this project.
The trial is expected to include testimony from individuals involved in political groups and campaigns who have received money from Fruman and Parnas. An expected witness is former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the top candidate for next year’s GOP Senate nomination in that state.
Laxalt’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018 was among the recipients of two $ 5,000 donations from Fruman that the Justice Department claims were straw donations from a Russian businessman who is ineligible to fund US campaigns was. And prosecutors say Laxalt’s testimony will show that he was deceived into believing the donation was legitimate.
Parna’s attorney Bondy said he wanted to question Laxalt in front of the jury about his support for Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him by widespread fraud. Bondy said Laxalt’s views were so bizarre that they undermined his credibility.
“He led former President Donald Trump’s efforts to stop the theft and overthrow the Nevada elections. … It is relatively far away and, to be honest, unbound from reality. I would say that it affects his competence, ”said the defender.
However, prosecutors said the defense was allowed to question Laxalt, threatening to create a sideline on Trump’s allegations. “People feel so strong and can’t help but argue about it when it comes up,” said Scotten.
But Bondy insisted that Laxalt’s views are way outside of the mainstream. “‘I think most of Mr Laxalt’s own party think these views are extreme, not just half the country or the Democrats,” said the defender.
Oetken took the side of the prosecutors. “I think it’s a real distraction to get involved in these things,” said the judge appointed by former President Barack Obama. The judge also banned defense attorneys from questioning Laxalt about his controversial intervention on behalf of the late casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and what lawyers called “rumors” that Laxalt had diverted campaign funds for personal use.
Oetken indicated on Tuesday that media interest in the case had waned. He said he did not see many reporters in the courtroom, although some were listening to the session over a phone line. The back and forth during the preliminary hearing left open the question of whether jurors would be asked publicly or privately about their views on Trump, Giuliani and other prominent figures, as the defenders demanded.
The Supreme Court has ruled that jury selections must be made publicly, but exceptions are allowed if juries want to discuss particularly private or sensitive matters. Addressing these issues with the management of coronavirus logs and social distancing put in place to protect court attendees certainly seems to make the company more complex.
“I’ve never had a process like this before,” said Oetken.