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Jeff Sessions, Leo DiCaprio, and a Fugee—What’s Next in the Nutty Pras Michel Trial?

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Celebrities and politicos abound, but this is about corruption.

The wildest trial in America got wackier Tuesday when the defendant, former Fugees’ rapper Pras Michel, unexpectedly took the stand to defend himself against campaign finance and illegal foreign lobbying charges—hard on the heels of testimony by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Michel said he decided to testify, “after consulting with my attorneys and the universe.” His testimony included celebrity name-dropping, freewheeling asides—”I want to send a prayer to my friend Jamie Foxx”—and an apparent admission to some of the campaign finances charges against him.

The juxtaposition of Sessions (former senator from Alabama, early Donald Trump supporter) and Michel (musician, Barack Obama fan) highlights the collision of celebrity and DC culture on display at a proceeding that has also featured testimony from Leonardo DiCaprio and disgraced Trump moneyman Elliott Broidy—and failed attempts by the defense to call Obama and Trump to testify.

The glue that connects these disparate figures is money. Low used his wealth to throw parties and fund movies, including DiCaprio’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which allowed him to make celebrity friends. But according to the Justice Department, his fortune was largely the product of a kleptocratic heist—the plundering of a state development fund by Malaysia’s former Prime Minister and his allies. Low, the feds have charged, was laundering the money though high-profile investments.

Michel on Tuesday described an extensive 2012 effort in which he attempted to help Low, who is not a US citizen, score a photograph with Obama. Despite “all the money and resources that he had, he had no one that could get him a way in,” Michel said. Michel had met Obama and backed his first campaign, so “I was the best person to help him get that photo.”

For his help, Michel said, “I basically requested or asked for a million dollars.” Low paid the fee, and Michel worked with a top Obama fundraiser named Frank White to try to get Low his photo. Michel set about this task by donating aggressively to the Obama campaign and working to get Low into fundraisers where he could meet Obama.

Prosecutors contend that Low gave Michel $20 million to disperse to the Obama campaign—and that Michel spent less than $2 million of it on donations. Michel testified that he used $800,000 to reimburse men he referred to as “Haitian friends” for $40,000 donations they paid to attend a June 2012 fundraiser in Miami co-hosted by the singer Marc Anthony—and another one in September at White’s home. Michel had a contract stipulating his payment for helping Low with the photo, he said, and he spent the $20 million “at my discretion.”

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