By Kara Scannell
A federal judge overseeing the campaign finance trial of Lev Parnas said he would likely question prospective jurors about former President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani as their names and images are likely to be mentioned during the three-week trial.
Judge Paul Oetken said he will compile a list of questions for prospective jurors and include the former President and Giuliani to weed out any jurors with strong feels about the New York businessman-turned-president and New York’s one time mayor and US attorney in Manhattan who might not be able to set aside their political views in judging the case.
He said he’d likely question any jurors further to zero in on “whether you can set aside any preconceived notions you have and decide this case based on evidence and law. Yes or no.”
The issue came up at the final court hearing for Parnas and Andrei Kukushkin, two men charged with funneling foreign donations into US elections. Parnas and Kukushkin have pleaded not guilty.
Lawyers for the defendants wanted the judge to have potential jurors fill out a lengthy questionnaire to get at jurors’ feelings, something prosecutors opposed. The judge asked both sides how much Trump and Giuliani might factor in the case.
Prosecutor Hagan Scotten said he expected them to be mentioned “very peripherally” and to demonstrate that Parnas touted his connection to Trump and Giuliani to show he and business partner Igor Fruman — who has pleaded guilty — had political sway. He said lots of pictures of Parnas and Fruman with Trump and Giuliani were sent to Kukushkin in a “name dropping, look how influential we are” kind of way.
Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Parnas, said the names may come up more frequently. “At a certain point in time Parnas began to travel with Giuliani, not only to GOP events but also internationally with respect to some of his other endeavors.” He said it is not the “core of case” but added, “I think it will come up relatively frequently.”
“It would seem to me that indeed the jurors have to be questioned on feelings about these people,” Bondy said.
The judge also made other rulings on what kinds of evidence could be introduced at trial. He denied Parnas’ efforts to question one witness about his past dealings with the FBI and limited his potential cross examination of former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
Oetken said Parnas’ lawyer could not introduce a car accident and the death of Parnas’ father, finding them not relevant. But he said Parnas’ education was fair game. Parnas’ lawyer suggested he might argue that his client received a GED high school equivalency diploma and not the advanced degrees of some government witnesses who were more knowledgeable of campaign finance laws.
Scotten, the prosecutor, said, if it was allowed in, the government should be able to argue that Parnas received his degree at a young age “because he was an incredibly smart student” who started on career in real estate and penny stock trading and was “something of a serial fraudster.”
The trial is expected to start next Tuesday.
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