US prosecutors investigating potential White House 'bribery-for-pardon' scheme

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With President Trump 50 days from leaving office, the Department of Justice is investigating a possible bribery scheme involving presidential pardons, according to court records unsealed Tuesday.

The 18-page court opinion is heavily redacted, and the names of the individuals under investigation are blacked out as is the identity of the person to be pardoned under the alleged plan.

The documents also pointed to "a related bribery conspiracy scheme in which [redacted] would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence for [redacted]".

"Email communications have been identified "indicat [ing] additional criminal activity" namely (1) a "secret lobbying scheme" in which [redacted] and [redacted] 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 [redacted]", Judge Howell wrote in her order.

The White House has declined to comment on the investigation.

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The bombshell investigation became public during a fight over attorney-client privilege that secretly has been underway in federal court in Washington, D.C. since at least August 25 this year, when prosecutors sought permission a judge's permission to override attorney-client privileged communications because of the crime-fraud exception. "If the president was involved, he would not be immune from prosecution for it".

The fight over the communications revolved around whether the emails were covered by attorney-client privilege, which would shield them from the government.

"No government official was or is now a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing", a Justice Department official said.

However, the records show that over fifty digital media devices totaling several terabytes of data were examined by a filter team of investigators operating under a search warrant. "The investigative team may therefore review and use any such communications to confront subjects and targets of this investigation".

The order was dated August 28, and prosecutors sought to keep it private because they said it identifies people not charged by a grand jury. But on Tuesday, Howell unsealed select portions of that document while redacting from view any personally identifiable information. "It would also be corrupt, illegitimate, and void", said Democratic congressman Adam Schiff in a tweet Tuesday.

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