Criminal Justice

DOJ probed possible bid to pay for presidential pardon, unsealed opinion says

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The U.S. Department of Justice has investigated whether an individual offered a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon, according to a redacted opinion released Tuesday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell of Washington, D.C., unsealed the Aug. 28 document but included the government’s extensive redactions. The opinion concerned whether attorney-client privilege protected emails on seized devices.

The New York Times, Reuters, CNN and the Washington Post have coverage.

Howell ruled that the government investigative team could access communications related to the alleged bribery-for-pardon scheme. The emails in question had been forwarded to a person who is not an attorney and is not the client, which eliminated protection for the communications, Howell said.

The opinion said the alleged bribery scheme involved a person who “would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.” The opinion also said the DOJ was investigating whether two individuals acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials without making the required lobbying disclosure.

In a footnote, Howell said the emails submitted as exhibits by the government don’t show any direct payment and instead indicate that clemency was sought because of substantial campaign contributions in the past and “anticipated future substantial political contributions.”

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that the “pardon investigation” is “fake news.” An unnamed DOJ official told CNN and the Washington Post that, “No government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing.”

The Washington Post noted that bribery is usually charged within five years of the crime, a span that covers Trump’s presidency, as well as part of President Barack Obama’s tenure.

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