Ahearn testified that a July 2018 article in the Daily Beast drew attention to a $ 325,000 contribution to PAC America First Action, which Parnas arranged through a largely unknown company called Global Energy Partners. That story sparked a formal complaint to the federal electoral commission that the company was essentially a mailbox company set up to make donations.
“I don’t remember exactly, but it was clearly a problem,” Ahearn said when questioned by Parnas’ attorney Joseph Bondy.
Bondy suggested to the jury that after filing the FEC complaint, Ahearn Parnas suggested going “full MAGA” over it. The defense attorney asked Ahearn to explain what that meant, but the judge upheld the prosecution’s appeal on the question.
Ahearn said that at the time he thought Parnas and his staff were in the energy industry. “I think I found out that they want to do something with natural gas in Eastern Europe,” he said.
When Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman were arrested in 2019, prosecutors alleged their political generosity was linked to efforts, supported by at least one Ukrainian official, to oust then-US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch . However, this allegation was dropped from a later version of the indictment and prosecutors did not raise the matter before the jury.
Bondy tried to use Ahearn’s testimony to emphasize that Parnas was not an expert on campaign finance law, but the result was a mixed mix for defense. The defense attorney attempted to confront his client Ahearn, who told the jury that he had a master’s degree in election and campaign management from Fordham and was taking a course in campaign finance there.
“Have you ever seen? [Parnas] read a book on suffrage or campaign finance? ”asked Bondy.
“Ah, no,” replied Ahearn.
“You don’t remember talking to him about the matter, do you?” Asked the defense attorney.
“Not me,” said Ahearn.
Ahearn later said he thought anyone tossing around with as much money as Parnas was would have learned the rules.
“As I understand it, you generally have some idea of what the law is like when you want to write large checks,” he said.
While Bondy focused on some complex aspects of the Campaign Funding Act, such as the donation rules for joint fundraising committees and the allocation of donations from partnerships, prosecutor Nicholas Roos described the controversial provisions on foreign money and straw donations as “relatively simple”.
And although the defense has labeled Parnas naive, Roos got Ahearn to say that Parnas actually warned him not to accept donations from another man who Parnas said was a front for a foreign oligarch.
Ahearn testified under an immunity warrant ordered by the prosecutor. Just before the jury came on, the fundraiser and political activist said he might be invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if asked about his dealings with Parnas. US District Court judge Paul Oetken granted Ahearn immunity, which means his testimony cannot be used against him in future criminal proceedings.
“Given our current situation and the allegations made, I thought immunity was a good idea,” said Ahearn, who was not charged with a crime.
Ahearn’s current status with America First Action is unclear, but the group said in a statement that it began mining earlier this year.
Ahearn could end up being the only defense witness on the case, with closing arguments expected to take place on Thursday morning.
Bondy said Parnas was still debating whether to take a stand on his own behalf. This could be a risky maneuver as Oetken has ruled that prosecutors can question him about a number of alleged wrongdoings that are not the subject of the current trial. These include an alleged fraud scheme and his efforts, along with Giuliani, to get Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation that would harm Joe Biden, who was considered a serious political rival to President Donald Trump at the time.