A court ruling disclosed Tuesday shows that federal prosecutors have been pursuing an investigation into potential bribery in connection with an effort to secure a pardon from President Donald Trump, Politico reports. The opinion issued by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., released in a heavily redacted form shows that Howell granted prosecutors permission to examine emails involving lawyers and an effort to seek a pardon for someone whose name was deleted from the public version of the opinion. Howell ruled that the inclusion of a non-lawyer and of a lawyer she described as an “attorney-advocate” who did not appear to be providing legal services voided the attorney-client privilege for some of the messages.
Howell said prosecutors are investigating a “bribery-for-pardon scheme” in which someone “would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for an unidentified person. “Pardon investigation is fake news,” Trump tweeted Tuesday night. A Justice Department official suggested the focus of the investigation was not on White House officials. Howell’s opinion said the probe involved the seizure of more than 50 digital media devices, such as phones, iPads and laptops. The judge said prosecutors were investigating whether lobbying efforts for a pardon violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act because those involved didn’t register under the law, but Howell noted that the law allows some lobbying for clients without registering.