As he reads the news coverage of last night’s hearing, Attorney General Adam Laxalt is probably regretting his decision a year ago to try to pressure Nevada’s top gaming regulator in order to help out his biggest political donor (or at least he regrets getting caught on tape doing it).
In the past 24 hours, Laxalt has earned himself a new nickname, admitted he was asked to recuse himself from this case for the Gaming Control Board, and emboldened a likely Republican primary challenger. Impressive!
The Nevada Independent: Top gaming regulator tells lawmakers he was ‘alarmed’ at attorney general request, Laxalt says ‘everyone was on the same page’
Two new key points of information emerged from the hearing — the fact that Burnett decided to turn the recording over to the FBI after consulting with Governor Brian Sandoval’s top attorney, and news that the state gaming regulators asked Laxalt to back away from this specific case.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford said the conversation revealed Laxalt’s attempts at pressuring Burnett and could be reasonably interpreted as an attempt at coercion. They asked whether he gave all of his clients the personal attention he had given to an issue involving the Sands, with whom he has close ties.
“Were you advocating on behalf of the Sands in asking to get an amicus brief filed?” Ford asked at one point in the hearing. “Whose interests are being represented here?”
Nevada Newsmakers: Ray Hagar: Laxalt's effort to help casino billionaire will be gubernatorial campaign issue in 2018, Nevada treasurer says
"I would think this would impact a primary," Schwartz said during a taping of Nevada Newsmakers. "It is a matter of huge concern when the head law-enforcement officer in the state goes hat-in-hand to the gaming board commissioner and asks him to interfere in a lawsuit."
Schwartz said Laxalt "sold himself cheap" to Adelson.
"I want to laugh at it but it is not funny," Schwartz said. "He sold himself cheap. He got $100,000 from Adelson, I heard more, but $100,000 (for his PAC). The gaming commissioner said no way (to intervening on behalf of Adelson) and Adelson settled for $75 million."
Then Schwartz added: "If you go to the dark side, at least get paid for it, right?"
Burnett said Wednesday that he submitted the audio to the FBI after consulting with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, asked Laxalt whether he had ever been asked by the gaming control board to recuse himself. Laxalt said that yes, that request had been made in this case.
Assembly Bill 513 would allow the Control Board to have independent counsel, rather than representation through the attorney general's office.
Laxalt said during the hearing that the Control Board had approached him to receive outside counsel on the issue.
KTVN Reno: Laxalt Responds To Controversy
The circumstances of the recording lead Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton to sponsor a bill that would remove the attorney general as legal counsel for the Gaming Control Board. AB513 would also allow the board to hire its own lawyer.
"I believe that the relationship between a client and their lawyer is very special and has to have a higher level of trust, and in reviewing the transcripts and the affidavits, I have concerns about that," Carlton said.
Was the attorney general asking gaming authorities to intervene on behalf of Adelson, his biggest donor to his campaign three years ago, someone he'd likely approach again if, as expected, he runs for governor next year?
Reno Gazette-Journal: Laxalt defends actions in taped conversation; Dems not convinced
Burnett revealed Wednesday that he went to both staff at the Gaming Control Board as well as the governor’s office to ask what to do about the recording. The governor’s general counsel told him to go to the FBI.
However, he did consider the circumstances of the meeting to be questionable. Sands had already contacted the GCB, which denied their request, and Laxalt’s own gaming attorneys said a brief would not be appropriate.
But Laxalt insisted on a meeting, which Burnett said he agreed to because he wanted to be polite. During that meeting, he decided it might be prudent to record the conversation.
“That is the first and only time I’ve ever recorded a conversation like that and I hope it’s the last,” Burnett said.
Reno News & Review: Sands dispute scrutinized
Sands chair Sheldon Adelson contributed heavily to Laxalt and financial entities supporting Laxalt in the 2014 campaign for attorney general. Recent news reports suggest up to $1,605,000—a remarkable amount in a state attorney general’s race—found its way from Adelson to various pro-Laxalt entities.
Nevada Appeal: Laxalt says he wasn’t coercing gaming chair
Those comments weren't well received by legislative leadership. Democrats have charged even if not illegal, the attempt to sway Burnett was a serious ethical violation on Laxalt's part.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said Laxalt's client, Burnett, was so concerned about the nature of the conversation he secretly recorded Laxalt and handed that recording over to the FBI to determine whether any laws were violated.
"That is not normal in an attorney–client relationship," said Frierson.
John L. Smith: That’s AG, as in ‘Adelson’s Gofer’
“What I can’t understand—help me with this,” Burnett said in the meeting. “Why is Sands—why are they so adamant on this and not giving up? Why are they pushing you right now? Why are they pushing my staff?”
But the reason was obvious. The clock was ticking, and Laxalt was clearly responding to his master’s voice.
Whether Laxalt lacked the strength of character necessary to say no to his biggest contributor is sure to be a topic of discussion at this week’s legislative airing of that no longer secret meeting. His actions have raised critical questions about whether the control board needs to start maintaining independent counsel to insulate it not only from politically heavy handed casino licensees, but from Adelson’s Gofer as well.
If only the AG represented common citizens with half as much zeal.