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Lev Parnas: Altruist or Schemer? 2 Views as Trial Begins

The idea, Ms. Flodr said, was to “grease the wheel” in an effort to gain influence among political figures.

“Their crimes were blatant,” she told jurors. “These men shoveled thousands and thousands of dollars of foreign money” into American politics.

Soon after Ms. Flodr spoke, Mr. Bondy presented the jurors with a counternarrative.

Mr. Parnas, he said, was a “motivated” businessman, who began donating money to political causes in 2016 after becoming interested in Republican candidates and ideas. Before long, Mr. Bondy said, those donations drew attention.

Mr. Fruman, an acquaintance from the Soviet émigré community in Boca Raton, Fla., wanted to use Mr. Parnas’s political connections to help with Global Energy Producers, Mr. Bondy said.

In 2018, Mr. Parnas attended a 2018 gathering at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s club in Florida, Mr. Bondy said. The following month Mr. Parnas was part of a similar gathering at the Trump International Hotel that included Mr. Trump and Donald Trump Jr., he said.

At one point, Mr. Bondy said, his client agreed to make a $1 million donation that would allow him to attend Republican events as a “V.I.P.” and have access to “high-end donors” with knowledge of the energy industry.

At the same time, Mr. Parnas, who believed that legalization of marijuana should be part of the Republican platform, wanted to use his newfound political connections to “take marijuana as an issue into the belly of the G.O.P.,” Mr. Bondy said.