For two nights earlier this month, viewers of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC were treated to an exclusive barrage of bombshells in the Ukraine-Trump scandal, delivered by would-be international fixer Lev Parnas.
As Parnas, one of the four associates of presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani indicted last fall for soliciting foreign help for President Donald Trump’s reelection effort, outlined exactly what he did — digging for dirt that would hurt Joe Biden, spooning damaging fabulism on former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch back to the president — a stone-faced man with close-cropped gray hair in a dark blue suit sat silently at his client’s left: Joseph Bondy. Bondy is Parnas’s lawyer, a prominent New York criminal defense attorney and, prior to his turn in Twitter-age international political intrigue, a prominent figure in cannabis legal defense and legalization advocacy circles.
As Trump’s impeachment trial begins in the U.S. Senate, Parnas is seizing a central role in both the legal proceedings and the attendant media circus. Bondy is also proving up to the task of keeping his client in a favorable spotlight, advocating for him to testify in the Senate with the #LetLevSpeak hashtag; and of releasing information at just the right time, to a variety of sources in the media as well as the House Intelligence Committee.
Join Lev Parnas and I for his second TV interview this evening, with @andersoncooper on @cnn, discussing @realDonaldTrump @RudyGiuliani and others. #LetLevSpeak #LevSpeaks #LevRemembers #TheyAllKnew pic.twitter.com/mSK2fsNBBP
— Joseph A. Bondy (@josephabondy) January 16, 2020
Through Bondy, Parnas is releasing more documents and evidence to Congress that would appear to back up his assertions that the president was tuned in to what he was doing. And when Trump denied so much as knowing Parnas, it was Bondy who responded by releasing a video off the two of them chatting amiably in an intimate group at Mar-a-Lago.
You may well ask: What’s a well-known weed lawyer doing representing an alleged would-be Mar-a-Lago fixer? And who is this guy, anyway? Bondy did not respond to requests for comment sent via his website or via Twitter DM, but there’s ample information out there to offer a brief sketch.
A native New Yorker, Bondy is one of the members of the pro-bono legal team suing the federal government, in Washington vs Barr, to overturn federal cannabis prohibition on constitutional grounds, as the New York Law Journal observed on Jan. 18.
As CelebStoner’s Steve Bloom posted last week, Bondy is also volunteer director of the Cannabis Cultural Association, a New York City-based nonprofit that advocates and “provides resources” for people of color to obtain entrepreneurship and job opportunities in the cannabis and hemp industries.
He seems effective in cannabis business. Two of his clients have won one of New York State’s 15 CBD-processing applications. Out of a pool of 352 applicants, that’s no mean feat. And Bondy has also spent enough time representing defendants against the might of federal marijuana law in federal court to earn accolades from the national leadership of NORML, where he’s a “lifetime member” of the organization’s legal committee.
And small wonder: Bondy has a track record of rescuing clients caught with cannabis from lengthy sentences According to his website, he managed to get a defendant accused of trafficking 6.5 tons of cannabis a 15-month sentence and managed to get another client, accused of both trafficking and conspiracy and cultivating more than 2,000 plants, an offense that would trigger a mandatory minimum of a decade in jail, 36 months.
He gave a talk at the 2016 NORML National Legal Committee seminar, held in Key West, Florida, in 2016. He’s also been since 2016 a member of the National Cannabis Industry Association. Of course, none of this repetition of his resume answers the question of how he came into Parnas’s orbit, or why Parnas would hire him.
One simple answer is that Bondy is a criminal defense attorney licensed to practice in the Southern District of New York, the federal court district in Lower Manhattan where Parnas and his alleged associates have been charged. Then again, there are an awful, awful lot of criminal defense attorneys licensed to practice in the Southern District of New York — this is the district where, coming full circle here, Rudy Giuliani made his bones as a U.S. attorney, prosecuting Mafia figures in the 1980s.
It is true that there’s a cannabis angle to the Parnas saga: one of the three other men indicted along with him is Andrey Kukushkin, who had interests in California cannabis dispensaries, and allegedly engaged in an illegal scheme to funnel money from Ukraine and Russia to straw donors in Nevada in an attempt to change cannabis laws to his favor.
And as the Daily Beast reported last week, Parnas in part gained access to pro-Trump political players — invited to attend an October 2018 dinner with Ivanka Trump and her husband, first-son-in-law Jared Kushner — in part because he was a “Trump loyalist” who was also “pro cannabis.” Fundraisers wanted him there because they wanted Ivanka and Jared’s help in convincing Trump to relax federal marijuana law, a cause shared by plenty of MAGA Republicans in Florida, probably chief among them Rep. Matt Gaetz.
That’s the most likely avenue for Bondy and Parnas to know one another—and, after his arrest Oct. 9 at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., with a one-way ticket to Vienna, Parnas could conceivably have flipped through his contacts list, seen Bondy up top, and given him a call. For now, seems like to have been a smart move.
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