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

A red ribbon for World Aids Day adorns the White House on December 1, 2020, in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

The US Justice Department is conducting an investigation into a potential crime pertaining to funneling money to the White House in exchange for a presidential pardon.

According to court documents unsealed in federal court on Tuesday, prosecutors in Washington said they had obtained evidence of a bribery scheme in which someone “would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”

The heavily redacted order was released by US District Judge Beryl Howell that describe what she called as a “bribery-for-pardon” investigation.

Almost half of the 18-page document was blacked out but there is a public version available providing few details of the alleged scheme, and naming none of the people potentially involved.

The order said prosecutors were also probing into a “secret lobbying scheme” in which two unidentified individuals “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials, without complying with the registration requirement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act.”

A Justice Department official said no government official is or was a target of the probe.

The department had to seek Howell’s permission to view certain emails between a lawyer and clients, who were remained unidentified.

Howell, who granted the request in August, said attorney-client privilege did not apply in that instance.

Prosecutors had said they intended to “confront” three unnamed individuals with the communications and then end their investigation.

According to Howell’s order, government investigators said they had seized “over fifty digital media devices, including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives, and computer and external hard drives.”

Presidents enjoy wide latitude under the US Constitution in pardoning people convicted of federal crimes.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, citing sources, said Tuesday that President Donald Trump had discussed with advisers whether to grant pre-emptive pardons to his children, to his son-in-law and to his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani.

The incumbent even talked with Giuliani about pardoning him as recently as last week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

This comes as Republican President Donald Trump is still refusing to concede defeat in the 2020 presidential election whose winner was declared Democratic Joe Biden.

The incumbent expressed his worry to others that a Biden Justice Department might seek retribution against the president by targeting the oldest three of his five children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — as well as Ms. Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, according to a White House senior adviser.

Last week, Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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