Laxalt Responds To Controversy - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Laxalt Responds To Controversy

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A hearing was held Wednesday night, where Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, A.G. Burnett gave their accounts of a conversation they had in March, 2016.  The two were at a coffee shop, talking about a civil suit involving the Las Vegas Sands, when Burnett recorded the conversation with his phone.

Laxalt says he is glad the recording has been released, saying it proves he did not do anything unethical.  The recorded conversation happened after the Las Vegas Sands asked the Gaming Control Board and the Attorney General to file an amicus brief on their behalf.  The Sands owner, Sheldon Adelson, is one of Laxalt's donors. 

"Let me just ask you point blank. Were you advocating on behalf of the Sands?"  Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas said.

"We were advocating on behalf of the state," Laxalt said. "We were advocating on behalf of our gaming control board, as well as our very important industry."

Burnett says he recorded the conversation because the circumstances and timing seemed odd.

"The attorney general wanted to pick me up and I wanted to be extremely cautious and have a recording of that because I didn't know what was going to happen after that," Burnett said.

Laxalt says he wanted to meet because a deadline was approaching and Burnett was going to leave for a vacation before then.  Burnett says Laxalt was not asking him to intervene in the Sands case, but was discussing the possibility of an amicus.  Laxalt says the Sands request probably would not happen.

"I told them we would consider their requests with the understanding that it was highly unlikely to file without the Gaming Control Board's concurrence," Laxalt said. "We agree that this was a tough request, with difficult optics because even though we would be filing an amicus brief against the Sands interests, it could be erroneously perceived as indeed, some have recently done as a favor to the Sands."

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.

"Shifting the entire situation over this conversation that we all got to read and listen to is just simply impossible to understand how that conclusion could be made," Laxalt said.

Burnett was asked if he thought the attorney general was meeting the demands of the GCB.

"Yes, absolutely," he said.

"Would independent counsel allow you to move forward with relying on counsel without feeling nervous in seeking or being sought out for advice," Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas said.

"I would probably have to answer with a soft no on that, simply because I think that we're skeptical by nature," Burnett said.

Laxalt says his own recorded words prove that he did not have ulterior motives, including a line where he gives Burnett his opinion on the Sands request.

"Obviously, the Las Vegas Sands have requested support, and I think we've reviewed their broad request, and most of it is absolutely not possible or appropriate," Laxalt said in the recording.

Another exchange shows how it could impact the Sands.

"By the way, our brief, at least as I see it, would not be totally helpful of Sands," Laxalt said. "I mean, it would be hurtful, in a number of ways. You know what I mean?"

Different lawmakers interpret the recording differently.  While some say the situation is a conflict of interest, others say the controversy is a political witch hunt.

"As I understand it, you were simply providing the service you were supposed to and trying to just discuss what was going on in the case," Assem. Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas said.

"There are certainly other interpretations of this interaction that could lead us to believe that we should be appointing a different counsel for the Gaming Control Board," Ford said.

Laxalt did say he was asked to recuse himself from the Sands case.  After the hearing, the attorney general's office issued a statement.

"After three months of breathless speculation, unfounded accusations and partisan fortune telling, today's hearing exposes what we have known all along: the attorney general acted ethically, legally and properly in discharging his duties on behalf of his client, the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Today, Attorney General Laxalt presented his case for the first time since the story was leaked to the press.  In his statement, the attorney general demonstrated that he acted properly, that he took no unprecedented action on behalf of a private entity, and that he repeatedly refused to take action on behalf of a donor.  From day one, he has been consistent about his role and level of participation, and it is clear that this inquiry was politically motivated and based on rumor and innuendo, instead of facts and truth. Now it is time for this Democrat-controlled Legislature to put this inquiry to rest and to admit that they wrongfully acted in their own political interest.  The people of Nevada have pressing needs, and the Legislature's time would be best spent addressing their concerns and attending to matters of public safety."

A statement was also released, jointly by Assem. Carlton and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson:

“After this evening’s hearing, it is clear that Attorney General Laxalt’s attempt to pressure the Gaming Control Board to intervene in a private civil lawsuit on behalf of his biggest donor has created an irreconcilable conflict. In fact, Mr. Laxalt admitted on the record tonight that the Board has gone so far as to ask him to recuse himself from representing their interests in this particular matter. Further, Mr. Laxalt failed to provide any compelling explanation as to why he felt the need to override his own office’s advice to the Board not to intervene in the private suit. Nevada sets the gold standard in gaming regulation, and the Legislature is responsible for ensuring that the integrity of the state’s largest industry remains intact. Because of Mr. Laxalt’s actions, we remain convinced that we must take steps to provide independent counsel to the Board and pass Assembly Bill 513.”

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