The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating a potential crime related to draining money for the White House in exchange for presidential pardon, according to legal documents that have not been sealed in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell on Tuesday released a heavily edited order describing what she called a “bribe for forgiveness” investigation.
About half of the 18-page document was black, with the publicly available version containing few details about the alleged system and naming none of those potentially involved.
It said federal prosecutors in Washington said they had received evidence of a bribery system in which someone “would offer a significant political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or delay in sentencing.”
The order states that prosecutors also investigated a “secret lobbying program” in which two unidentified individuals “acted as lobbyists for senior White House officials, without meeting the registration requirement in the lobby.”
The Department of Justice had to ask Howell’s permission to show certain emails between a lawyer and unidentified clients.
Howell granted the request in August, saying attorney-client eligibility did not apply in that case.
Prosecutors had said they planned to “confront” three unnamed individuals with the communication and 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.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Presidents have great breadth under the U.S. Constitution when they forgive people convicted of federal crimes. Last week, President Donald Trump sued his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
It was the first of what is expected to be a stern pardon during Trump’s last weeks in the White House.
According to Howell’s order, the Department of Justice had recently told her that it wanted to prevent the investigation from becoming public because it describes “individuals and behavior” who have not yet been charged.