Heller: Democrats are right to hold hearings on Laxalt-Burnett affair

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller supports Democratic lawmakers’ plans to have a legislative hearing to examine Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s request for the Gaming Control Board to intervene in a lawsuit involving Laxalt’s largest political donor, Sheldon Adelson.

Heller, a Republican who considered running for governor before Laxalt indicated his intentions to run, briefly addressed the request by Laxalt, whose entreaty was secretly recorded by Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett,  when asked by a Nevada Independent reporter on Friday.

"It's way too early to have any comments on that particular issue,” Heller said while in Las Vegas. “I know they're going to have hearings in the Legislature, and, frankly, I think they should have hearings in the Legislature. But beyond that I don't have any comments."

Heller’s firm stance comes as some of his Republican peers — including Gov. Brian Sandoval, Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson and Sen. Ben Kieckhefer — have declined to offer substantial comments on the situation. Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has called the situation “political bullshit” and a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Several hours after this story first published, Heller sent the following statement, softening his position: "I agree with Attorney General Laxalt that a legislative hearing will allow him to make his case and clear up this matter. Adam is a colleague and a friend. I have complete faith in him as our Attorney General."

It remains unclear when such a hearing would occur, but it could come as early as next week.

The Nevada Independent reported earlier this week the details of an affidavit from Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett, who outlined Laxalt’s insistence on meeting with him in March 2016. After a series of urgent text messages, Laxalt ultimately picked up Burnett from a car dealership and drove them to a Reno-area coffee shop, where he asked the state’s top gaming regulator to file an amicus brief in a lawsuit involving the Las Vegas Sands, according to the affidavit.

Burnett, who was unnerved by the circumstances, secretly recorded the conversation and, later, turned the recording over to the FBI, which determined no wrongdoing. Burnett also declined to have the Gaming Control Board intervene in the litigation.

The political fallout comes in the final weeks of the state’s legislative session. Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto weighed in Thursday and denied Laxalt’s assertion that his action was routine and similar to what Cortez Masto did when she was the state’s attorney general.

“This comparison does not make any sense. When Cortez Masto represented the Gaming Control Board in litigation between private parties during her tenure as Attorney General, she was upholding her responsibility as AG to represent the GCB when court decisions had the potential to affect its independent regulatory authority,” her office said in a statement.

Heller attended a Las Vegas business luncheon Friday sponsored by the Latin Chamber of Commerce, Regional Transportation Commission and Laborers Local 872. Multiple hecklers interrupted Heller’s luncheon speech, forcing him to repeatedly say “more listening, less yelling” — an ode to more compromise across the political aisle as well.

Security officers at the Suncoast, where the networking event and luncheon was held, escorted the disruptors out of the ballroom one by one.

Update: This story was updated at 11:50 p.m. to include an additional statement Heller sent Friday evening.

Feature photo: Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller prepares to address the Latin Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday, May 12, 2017, at the Suncoast hotel/casino. Photo by Jeff Scheid.


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