Justice Department investigating potential bribery scheme to obtain pardon
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating a potentially criminal scheme involving paying a bribe to people either in or affiliated with the White House in exchange for an unknown person receiving a presidential pardon, according to court documents that were unsealed Tuesday.
The court records, which were unsealed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, say the DOJ investigation involves two people, whose names are redacted, who were improperly acting as lobbyists to secure the pardon for a person whose name is also redacted. The plot involved the person offering “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”
It was not immediately clear for whom the pardon would be granted or where the bribe would be directed, and the documents provide no indication President Trump was aware of the plot.
The disclosure, contained in a 20-page filing littered with redactions, comes amid reports that Trump is considering pardoning an array of associates in the waning days of his presidency.
The new filing shows Chief Judge Beryl Howell was conducting a review in August of a request from federal prosecutors to examine documents that had been obtained from a search warrant as part of an investigation into the plot.
The release shows investigators recovered more than 50 digital devices, including iPhones, iPads, laptops and computer drives, after a raid of unidentified offices. The prosecutors were requesting access to the devices on suspicion that they showed alleged criminal activity regarding the “secret lobbying scheme” for the unnamed person.
The files indicate the devices contain communications between a defendant and an attorney, which are typically kept from prosecutors because they are considered privileged. However, such privilege is not applied when an exchange involves discussion of a crime, and Howell granted prosecutors access to the devices.
“The political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted]’s role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted name],” Howell wrote in her court order.
The new documents do not include any names of the people involved or when the scheme was hatched. They do say the two people who were working to organize the agreement were acting as lobbyists to senior administration officials but did not comply with the Lobbying Disclosure Act’s registration requirement.
It also appears prosecutors have not yet provided evidence to the judge regarding a direct payment but that the person seeking a pardon was doing so for protection regarding political contributions they’d made.
No charges have yet been filed that indicate a person has been prosecuted over the alleged bribery.
Speculation over possible grants of clemency in the waning days of Trump’s presidency reached a fever pitch last week when Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to federal investigators about his contacts with the top Russian diplomat in the United States. The charge was brought in connection with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Allies of the president on Capitol Hill and in the media have pressed him in recent days to preemptively pardon an array of confidants, family members and even himself, floating claims that they could be targeted by politically motivated charges once Trump leaves office.