Report: DOJ investigating bribery-for-pardon scheme

This is coming from CNN but it’s not based on anonymous sources. Instead it’s based on court documents, redacted versions of which have been published. What the documents indicate is that back in August Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the DC District Court reviewed a request for documents involving a pay-for-pardon investigation. That’s really all we know at this point but the mystery will only make this more fascinating for DC journos, I suspect. So let the speculation begin:

The filings don’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…

“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…

Over the last week, the Justice Department told Howell it wanted to keep filings related to the matter confidential in court, because “individuals and conduct” hadn’t yet been charged.

Looking at the documents themselves, it seems phones, ipads and laptops seized in connection with the scheme revealed a plan in which two individuals, whose names are redacted, “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials” without registering as lobbyists. The goal was to secure a pardon for the unnamed third party. In addition, the documents say there was a plan for someone (redacted) to make a “substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence for [redacted].”

Because the names are redacted it’s not clear if the person offering the bribe was the person who would get the pardon. The way the sentence is written suggests that maybe the person offering the contribution was not the same person who would receive the pardon, but again I can’t be sure. In any case, the bribe was to be brought to the White House by the two unofficial lobbyists mentioned above.

The document goes on to say that investigators planned to speak to three people about the scheme, presumably the two lobbyists and the person who planned to make the bribe.

What follows are about 9 pages of background on the case, but every bit of it has been redacted. Then there’s a discussion section which includes a footnote that explains the emails do not show any “direct payment” but instead suggest that “clemency” would be obtained due to one individual’s “past substantial campaign contributions” and also “anticipated future substantial political contributions.” Again, both phrases could be talking about the same person or we could be talking about two different individuals. It’s impossible to tell because the names are redacted.

So it sounds like prosecutors believe someone is going to be charged but they haven’t been yet. We may not have to wait long for the names. But this also seems like the kind of thing that could leak pretty quickly now that the word is out.