In a potentially explosive development in the waning days of outgoing President Donald Trump’s administration, the Justice Department is investigating an alleged “bribery-for-pardon” scheme involving cash payments to the White House or its associates in exchange for a presidential pardon.
The heavily-redacted court records unsealed Tuesday in federal court do not name any individuals involved nor do they mention President Trump, or whether any officials in the White House were acquainted with the scheme.
However, the legal drama that the records hint at create new, dark clouds over the outgoing administration after a number of his top associates and advisers have faced federal criminal charges while Trump has openly mulled pardoning those who have proven their loyalty to him.
In 20 pages of partially redacted documents unsealed by the DC District Court, the question is discussed of whether prosecutors can review documents that are potentially protected by attorney-client privilege and were seized after a search warrant.
The records also reveal Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell’s Aug. 28 opinion on an ongoing investigation involving at least two figures who “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials, without complying with the registration requirement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act… to secure ‘a pardon or reprieve of sentence for” an individual whose name is redacted.
In the review, the judge noted that the communications could be reviewed by investigators because the email discussion involved a non-attorney.
“This political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from one individual’s role as an attorney advocate for” another individual, the ruling added, with both names involved being redacted.
According to the filings, the communications were seized from an office in a raid that occurred at some point prior to the end of summer 2020.
During the raid, a filter team – meant to ensure that prosecutors don’t receive tainted evidence that should not have fallen into their hands because it was privileged – had over 50 digital devices, including smartphones, tablet computers, laptops, thumb drives and hard drives after investigators raided the undisclosed offices, reports CNN.
In the court documents, prosecutors requested access to the filter team’s trove of devices. This is because the prosecutors believed that the holdings showed alleged crimes such as a “secret lobbying scheme” and bribery conspiracy that solicited “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for a defendant who was convicted, according to the redacted records.
“The political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted]’s role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted name],” Judge Howell wrote in the court order.
A grand jury investigation was also revealed, and appears to relate to unnamed parties who acted as unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” and pursued pardons while using an intermediary to transmit bribes, the records say.
However, prosecutors have not provided evidence to the judge of any direct payment. Instead, they showed evidence that the redacted person was seeking clemency in return for past and future contributions to a political campaign.
Over the last week, the Department of Justice has informed Judge Howell that it wants the filings to reman confidential in court because “individuals and conduct” have not been publicly charged with any crimes related to the potential scheme.
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