The Justice Department 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 unsealed Tuesday in federal court.
The bombshell disclosure was contained within 20 pages of partially redacted documents made public by the DC District Court on Tuesday afternoon.
The records show Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s review in August of a request from prosecutors to access documents obtained in a search as part of a bribery-for-pardon investigation.
The court filings didn’t reveal a timeline of the alleged scheme, or any names of people potentially involved, except that communications between people including at least one lawyer were seized from an office that was raided sometime before the end of this summer.
“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,” reports CNN.
Prosecutors told the court they wanted permission to the filter team’s holdings and said they 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,” reports the news outlet.
“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.
According to the unsealed court records, 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.