CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt told lawmakers on Wednesday that legal advice he gave the state’s top gaming regulator would ultimately not have benefited a GOP political donor, as Democratic lawmakers claim.
In front of a Democratic-led joint finance committee, Laxalt — an expected-but-unannounced 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate — defended his request last year that Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett intervene in a lawsuit involving casino magnate and Republican political benefactor Sheldon Adelson, who bankrolled Laxalt’s bid for his current office.
During one of their meetings on a lawsuit that painted an unflattering picture of Adelson’s business practices, Burnett captured Laxalt’s legal advice in a surreptitious audio recording that has led to one criminal inquiry that found no wrongdoing and one ethical complaint that was rejected.
Representatives of Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. asked the state to file a sweeping ream of legal opinions in the lawsuit, Laxalt said, which cumulatively would have benefited Adelson.
But Laxalt was interested in pursuing only one of those angles, which favored the confidentiality of casino documents turned over to Nevada’s gaming board.
“It could be erroneously perceived, as indeed some have recently done, as a favor to the Sands,” Laxalt told lawmakers. He later added, “They specifically had told our lawyers as well as, I believe, the Gaming Control Board somewhere along the way, ‘If you won’t file an amicus on all of these issues, please don’t file it.'”
Burnett and the gambling agency declined to intervene in Adelson’s case, which was later settled for tens of millions of dollars.
Democrats alleged during the nearly three-hour hearing that Laxalt inappropriately pressured Burnett on behalf of Adelson after meeting with the billionaire businessman and his representatives.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford said there are alternate interpretations to Laxalt’s description, namely that he abused his office’s power.
“We were advocating on behalf of the state, we were advocating on behalf of our Gaming Control Board, as well as our very important industry,” Laxalt said.
Ford shot back “That doesn’t preclude that you were advocating on behalf of the Sands as well”
Laxalt has repeatedly denied having acted improperly and said his nay-sayers are “twisting and politicizing a routine action.”
Burnett, uneasy with the “awkward” conversation, consulted his staff and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s general counsel as to his recording. They advised him to send it to the FBI, Burnett said Wednesday.
He agreed to do so around April 30, 2016. A couple weeks later, in mid-May, the FBI informed him that it appeared Laxalt committed no crimes related to the case.
Democrats scheduled the meeting to probe Laxalt and consider legislation stripping his office from legally representing the Gaming Control Board.
Laxalt said on Wednesday that Burnett has asked the attorney general to recuse himself on the current issue, centered on Laxalt, in order to retain outside counsel.