Cash for presidential pardons, anyone?
CNN is reporting that they have obtained unsealed federal court records uncovering an investigation from the United States Justice Department into President Donald Trump’s administration for “a potential crime related to funneling money to the White House or related political committee in exchange for a presidential pardon.”
The court records reportedly include 20 pages of partially redacted documents made public by the D.C. District Court Tuesday afternoon (Dec. 1).
The records show a review from Chief Judge Beryl Howell back in August requesting prosecutors to access documents obtained in a search as part of a bribery-for-pardon investigation.
While the filings don’t reveal a specific timeline of the alleged scheme, or any names of people potentially involved, it does show that communications between people, including at least one lawyer, were seized from an office that was raided sometime before the end of the summer, CNN reports.
At the end of this summer, a filter team, used to make sure prosecutors don’t receive tainted evidence that should have been kept from them because it was privileged, had more than 50 digital devices including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives and computer drives after investigators raided the unidentified offices.
Prosecutors told the court they wanted permission to the filter team’s holdings. The prosecutors believed the devices revealed emails that showed allegedly criminal activity, including a “secret lobbying scheme” and a bribery conspiracy that offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for a convicted defendant whose name is redacted, according to the redacted documents.
Communications between attorneys and clients are typically privileged and kept from prosecutors as they build their cases, but in this situation, Howell allowed the prosecutors access. Attorney-client communications are not protected as privileged under the law when there is discussion of a crime, among other exceptions.
“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 grand jury investigation also appears to relate to unnamed people acting as unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” as they sought to secure a pardon and use an intermediary to send a bribe, the unsealed court records say.
Prosecutors were unable to provide evidence of any criminal wrongdoing to the judge (i.e. a direct payment to the Trump administration), and no one appears to have been publicly charged with a related crime to date, however, they were able to prove that someone was seeking clemency due to past and future political contributions.
The investigators reportedly told the court that they planned to “confront” three people with communications to complete their investigation.
The case is the latest legal twist in the last days of the Trump administration after several of his top advisers have been convicted of federal criminal charges, and as possibility rises of Trump giving pardons to his loyalists.
Can January 20th, 2021 get here any faster?