A redacted court order unsealed Tuesday revealed the existence of an investigation into a “bribery-for-pardon” scheme, in which an unnamed defendant allegedly mounted a White House lobbying effort to receive a pardon in exchange for “a substantial political contribution.”
CNN first reported on the highly-redacted court order, issued in late August and made public Tuesday by Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The identities of the defendant and their purported lawyer-lobbyists are not clear from the order. No one appears to have been charged to date in the alleged scheme.
The order itself authorizes prosecutors to review certain communications between various people whose names were redacted, and for which the court determined that attorney-client privilege did not apply.
Prosecutors alleged a “secret lobbying scheme” in which individuals acted as “lobbyists to senior White House officials” without proper disclosure, the judge wrote. Communications from “over fifty digital devices” indicated alleged criminal activity, she said, quoting prosecutors.
The order goes on to describe an alleged bribery scheme in which an individual would offer a “substantial political contribution” in exchange for a presidential pardon or “reprieve of sentence” for an unnamed defendant.
The judge’s order reasoned that, because certain communications were “directed, copied or forwarded” to an unnamed individual who is not an attorney, attorney-client privilege did not apply.
Howell’s order Tuesday unsealing her order from late August noted that the Justice Department initially requested that she keep the whole thing under wraps.
“On November 25, 2020, the government submitted a status report requesting that the Court “maintain the Memorandum Opinion under seal,’ because it ‘identifies both individuals and conduct that have not been charged by the grand jury,'” she noted, quoting prosecutors.
In response, the court directed the government to explain why “each line” must remain under seal, even if the document was redacted. Ultimately, Howell wrote, the government responded with the redacted version of her order that was unsealed.
Read the filing below: