Feds Are Investigating A "Secret" Bribery Scheme To Get A Presidential Pardon

Separately, President Donald Trump reportedly is discussing precautionary pardons for his children and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

A ribbon hangs on the White House for World AIDS Day 2020, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Washington. | AP Images
A ribbon hangs on the White House for World AIDS Day 2020, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Washington. | AP Images

The Department of Justice is investigating a possible criminal “bribery-for-pardon” scheme involving the White House, according to federal court documents unsealed Tuesday by a D.C. district judge. While the documents do not mention President Donald Trump or other individuals involved, the president reportedly is discussing precautionary pardons for his children, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. 

CNN first reported on the 20-page, highly redacted court filing, which shows Chief Judge Beryl Howell in August reviewed a request from prosecutors to access materials in an ongoing “secret lobbying scheme” investigation. The documents said unnamed people “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials, without complying with the registration requirement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act … to secure a pardon or reprieve of sentence for” a person whose name is redacted.

Prosecutors also said a person offered "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence,” according to court documents. Prosecutors were seeking access to 50 digital devices, including iPhones, iPads, laptops, and computer drives that government investigators seized in a raid of an unidentified office, which they say could shed light on the alleged criminal activity. 

NBC News reported that the Justice Department said “no government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing," and President Trump called the investigation “fake news” late Tuesday. Separately, Giuliani tweeted that a story in The New York Times that reported his potential pardoning was false.

The news comes as President Trump’s chaotic first term comes to a close, though he has not conceded the election, and he is expected to pardon a string of associates. Last week, he pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Several members of the president’s inner circle have been indicted or convicted for criminal activity in financial scandals. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight charges of bank and tax fraud, while his other personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations — and directly implicated the president in a hush-money scandal over his alleged affairs.

Presidential pardons do not exempt people from state or local criminal investigations. As of Wednesday, President Trump has granted 29 pardons — including of late suffragist Susan B. Anthony and controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio — and commuted 16 people’s sentences. Those figures are far less than those of his predecessors, according to the Pew Research Center.