Lawyers for Harvey Whittemore filed court papers Wednesday opposing the government’s effort to seal a defense motion that made public a 2008 FBI investigation into ties between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the indicted former power broker.
“The government has fallen woefully short of meeting its heavy burden to overcome the presumption of public access and openness of criminal proceedings,” Whittemore’s lawyers wrote. “No specific sensitive information has been identified, nor has any particularized explanation been offered to support sealing such information.”
In their motion to seal the defense court papers, federal prosecutors argued that the papers referred to “sensitive, nonpublic investigative information concerning a now-concluded matter.”
The investigation, conducted by the FBI’s Washington field office, was sparked by reports of Reid’s role in helping Whittemore’s Coyote Springs master-planned community north of Las Vegas clear government hurdles. It did not result in criminal charges against either man.
Whittemore’s defense lawyers, led by Dominic Gentile and Vincent Savarese, said in their motion earlier this week that they wanted to present testimony about the investigation at Whittemore’s federal trial next month on charges of unlawfully funneling $138,000 in campaign contributions to Reid in 2007.
Prosecutors have said the Nevada Democrat was unaware of the scheme, which they contend involved the use of unlawful conduit contributions.
Whittemore’s lawyers argued that the 2008 investigation shows he had no criminal intent to make illegal campaign donations.
Whittemore, 59, once a top Nevada legislative lobbyist, was indicted last June on four felony charges, including making excessive contributions and lying to the FBI and the Federal Election Commission. His trial is set for May 14 in Reno before Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks, who must decide whether to seal the defense motion and other papers prosecutors want withheld from the public.
Prosecutors originally disclosed the 2008 investigation in papers filed under seal in the current case and later provided a copy to Whittemore’s lawyers, who made them public on Monday.
The Review-Journal obtained copies of the documents from the federal court’s electronic docket Tuesday , but they were removed after prosecutors objected to their public filing. The defense motions were later re-posted, without the government papers disclosing the 2008 investigation. Those papers are now sealed.
According to a copy of the papers, posted with the defense motion on the Review-Journal’s website, FBI agents in 2008 searched public records for federal campaign contributions Whittemore made to Reid. They also checked bank records for Reid’s federal campaign committee obtained under subpoena and interviewed two Nevada officials.
Whittemore’s lawyers say it is significant that FBI agents found no evidence that Whittemore had violated federal campaign finance law.
Prosecutors contend investigators in 2008 didn’t have crucial information that emerged several years later.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.