The Justice Department has been investigating whether intermediaries for a federal convict offered White House officials a bribe in exchange for a potential pardon or commutation from President Donald Trump, according to court documents unsealed by a federal judge Tuesday.
The documents were heavily redacted, and it was unclear who may have been involved. Nothing directly tied Trump to the scheme, and the documents said no one had been charged.
But the documents offered a few clues about what the White House may have known about the scheme. One passage appears to show that a lawyer for the convict had discussions with the White House Counsel’s Office about a pardon or commutation, but it was unclear whether the discussions were part of the scheme or a normal back-and-forth with the White House about a convict’s case.
Late Tuesday, Trump used Twitter to briefly address the disclosure of the investigation, calling it “Fake News.”
The information about the potential scheme was included in an opinion, dated Aug. 28, from the chief U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia, Beryl A. Howell, who was weighing whether to allow federal prosecutors to examine evidence — like emails — that may have been protected by attorney-client privilege.
Howell granted the prosecutors access to the materials.
Investigators suspected that the convict seeking the pardon was imprisoned as recently as this summer and that two people working on behalf of the convict may have undertaken a secret lobbying campaign by approaching White House officials, according to the documents.
The two people may have offered to funnel money as political donations in exchange for the pardon or commutation, although it was unclear where the money was supposed to be sent.
Given Trump’s undisciplined approach to pardons, the disclosure, coming amid a flurry of reports about how Trump has been discussing whether to pardon his children and close confidants in the final weeks of his presidency, raised fears that the pardon process may have been corrupted.
Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday, and had talks with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani last week about a preemptive pardon for Giuliani before he leaves office. The president has also had discussions with advisers about how he fears that a Biden Justice Department could seek retribution against him by prosecuting his children.