Investigators are looking into whether bribes were used to try to obtain presidential pardons in the US, according to federal court papers.
The heavily redacted document was unsealed by the chief judge for the federal court in Washington on Tuesday and do not name any of the individuals involved.
In a statement a Justice Department spokesperson said no government official was, or is currently a subject or target of the investigation. Despite that, President Trump could not stop himself tweeting that the investigation was “Fake News!”.
Pardon investigation is Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2020
According to the 18-page document, a number of people are suspected of having acted to secretly lobby White House officials to secure a pardon or sentence commutation and that, in a related scheme, a substantial political contribution was floated in exchange for a pardon.
The court papers says the investigation is looking into whether at least two 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” an individual whose name is redacted.
The investigation also involves a possible offer by a redacted individual to “offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”
As part of the probe, more than 50 laptops, iPads and other digital devices have been seized, according to the document.
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The existence of the investigation was revealed in a court order from US District Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of Washington’s federal court, in which she granted investigators access to certain email communications connected to the alleged schemes that she said were not protected by attorney-client privilege.
Prosecutors will be able to use that material to confront any subject or target of the investigation, the judge wrote.
The order was dated August 28, and prosecutors sought to keep it private because they said it identified people not charged by a grand jury. But on Tuesday, Ms Howell unsealed that document while redacting from view any personally identifiable information.
There do not appear to have been any charges in the investigation yet.