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KTVN: Democrats Question Laxalt’s Ethics After Secret Recording

Democrats accuse Attorney General Adam Laxalt of using his office for political purposes, since the republican is running for governor. The questions stem from a November flight from Las Vegas to Reno, when a passenger secretly recorded Laxalt while he was on the phone.  The Reno Gazette Journal obtained the recording, where he was talking to a staff member from the AG’s office about making a statement for a news story.  The story was about Laxalt’s ‘No’ vote to pardon Fredrick Steese of Second Degree Murder.

“We just need to be more aggressive in our response to this thing and I don’t know why we sat on this the last few hours,” Laxalt said during the recording. “That’s what I’m frustrated about.”

Laxalt also discussed procedural issues regarding a request that was sent to the Attorney General’s office by the Nevada Democratic Party. Democrats say he was using his office staff to do things that his campaign staff should have been doing.

“So far, Adam Laxalt has shown that he’s not interested in abiding by basic ethics rules,” Sarah Mahler, Chair of the Democratic Party of Washoe County said. “We need to know about this man’s ethics and we need to know how competent he is. We want to know exactly what we’re getting into for our next election for governor.”

Political experts say this type of thing is fairly common.  Candidates that already hold an office tend to have their official job overlap with their campaigns.  Eric Herzik is the Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Nevada.  He says these types of issues often create a gray area.

“His vote would actually be a part of his official duties as the A.G., so here’s my explanation,” Herzik said. “How aggressively you’re responding to the media begins to raise the question of ‘Are you using your office staff to help you out politically?'”

Laxalt was not available for comment but his office and campaign both released statements.

Statement from Monica Moazes, Communications Director for the Attorney General’s Office:

“Last month, the Office of the Nevada Attorney General received a public records request from the State Democratic Party concerning the Attorney General’s vote against Fredrick Steese’s pardon for Second Degree Murder. The request implies AG Laxalt’s decision to vote against pardoning Steese, a seven-time felon who recently pleaded to Second Degree Murder, was politically motivated. Since that vote, AG Laxalt has been frustrated with the media’s misleading coverage of the vote and the facts and circumstances of Steese’s Second Degree Murder conviction.

When voting against the pardon, AG Laxalt relied on the opinion of Clark County District Attorney prosecutors most familiar with the case. Those career prosecutors wrote that pardoning Steese would be an ‘absurdity.’ Additionally, District Attorney Wolfson himself, an elected Democrat, stated that the judge’s order granting habeas release “doesn’t necessarily mean Steese didn’t do it” (i.e., commit murder). Thus far, the media has failed to write about that. Because of the DA’s position and his own belief that pardoning a man convicted of several prior felony offenses would present a danger to our communities, AG Laxalt voted against Steese’s pardon.

Since his vote, AG Laxalt has received multiple media inquiries on this issue, both into his official office and his gubernatorial campaign. It is well within the rights of his office to address the merits of AG Laxalt’s decision to vote ‘no.’ The office intends to continue to do so.”

Statement from Andy Matthews from the Laxalt Campaign:

This recording is of two different conversations regarding two separate issues. The Attorney General discussed with members of his official staff a response to inquiries regarding his Pardons vote and the procedural details of the FOIA request that was sent to the Attorney General’s office by the Nevada Democratic Party. These matters are within their official functions and therefore appropriate to address.

Separately, he had a discussion with his campaign staff regarding a response to the hyperbolic, partisan attacks from the Nevada Democratic Party and certain political pundits. While the official office would have been within their right to respond to these attacks as well, the Attorney General rightfully recognized the attacks were political in nature, and therefore most appropriate for his campaign to address. If anything, this article reveals that the Attorney General handled the situation and these issues appropriately and with an overabundance of caution.