As the Trump administration enters its final days, it appears as if it will leave the White House as enmeshed in scandal as it entered it.
According to new court documents, the Department of Justice has begun an investigation of a potential crime that involves a transfer of money to either the White House or a political committee related to the Trump campaign in exchange for the promise of a pardon by Donald Trump.
According to CNN:
“The disclosure is in 20 pages of partially redacted documents made public by the DC District Court on Tuesday afternoon. The records show Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s review in August of a request from prosecutors to access documents obtained in a search as part of a bribery-for-pardon investigation.”
Because all of the names in the court documents have been redacted and the investigation is still ongoing, there are few details of the participants or the timeline of the shocking allegations.
However, the documents do reveal that communications between the people involved were seized in a raid that took place “sometime before the end of this summer, according to CNN.
More than 50 devices including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives, and computer drives were gathered during that raid and handed to a “filter team,” a group tasked with ensuring that material covered by attorney/client privilege doesn’t accidentally fall into the hands of prosecutors.
The court documents detail the request made by prosecutors to access the material held by the filter team because the DOJ prosecutors believe that they will provide evidence for an allegedly criminal bribery plot that included a “secret lobbying scheme” and a conspiracy that offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”
The name of the convicted defendant whose sentence the plot was to benefit has their name redacted in the documents released today.
Since there is only one person who can agree to offer a presidential pardon, Donald Trump himself, the beneficiary of the alleged bribery plot is obvious.
While most communication between lawyers and their clients are considered privileged and inaccessible to prosecutors, the law makes exceptions to that rule when the communications concern the planning of a crime.
“The political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted]’s role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted name],” Judge Howell wrote in her court order.
An already existing grand jury investigation seems to cite unidentified people who acted as unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” as they tried to arrange a pardon and use a third-party intermediary to forward an illegal bribe, the unsealed court records show.
Apparently, the Justice Department prosecutors have yet to produce evidence of a direct payment but instead were presenting an argument that the target of the pardon was using their history of past contributions and the promise of future donations as leverage for the pardon.
The prosecutors also told the judge that they were planning to “confront” three people with the evidence gathered and complete their investigation, but that no charges have yet been formally filed.
While Trump has pardoned many people, including most recently his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, online speculation has centered on the possibility that the case involves Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who pleaded guilty in 2010 to underpaying his taxes by nearly half a million dollars and whose son and his daughter-in-law have donated over $200,000 to Trump’s campaign since August of 2019.
With so much still unknown about the evidence that the Justice Department has uncovered, it is too early to say whether Donald Trump himself was aware of the bribery scheme.
Hopefully, a full investigation under incoming President Joe Biden’s Justice Department will reveal everything the public needs to know about this alleged corruption and see that everyone involved is appropriately punished.
Original reporting by Katelyn Polantz at CNN.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.