Yesterday a court order, signed on November 30, was made public. It forced the Justice Department to disclose an evidentiary request they filed back in August in a case involving an attempt to bribe the President to secure a pardon. The disclosed documents are heavily redacted, but a few key details can be determined.
At some point before August, law enforcement, presumably the FBI, raided an office in connection with an investigation into some other matter. As investigators combed through the materials in that case, they discovered evidence of a whole new crime, an effort to bribe the President to secure a pardon.
On August 25th, the Justice Department went before the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit, Beryl Howell, in an ex parte hearing, meaning there was no opposing counsel involved. They asked Howell to rule on whether the materials they had found were protected by attorney client privilege. This is normal. When the government seeks to use potential attorney-client communications as evidence under the crime/fraud exception it is standard to seek a judge’s ruling first.
We can’t see the particulars, but Howell determined that the materials were not privileged because the sensitive data had been handled by a non-attorney who would be cooperating in the scheme. Then she did something interesting. She gave the government 90 days to unseal the case. This would be just enough time to get past the election.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the AGs found themselves back in Howell’s office. After 90 days the government still had not issued any indictments or made any public statements about the evidence in their possession. AGs asked Howell to keep the matter under seal and declined to submit any suggested redactions. “Finding this response insufficient,” Howell ordered them to submit their proposed redactions by Monday, November 30. They did, and Howell ordered the redacted filings published.
Her order gives the Justice Department until the end of November 2021 to move on this case or have the full details disclosed.
In summary, somebody’s lawyer’s office was raided by G-Men in a criminal investigation. Combing through the evidence the FBI found a whole other crime involving the President. The Justice Department has had this bombshell evidence in their possession for at least three months, maybe a lot longer. As of last week, they still hadn’t charged anyone, or shown the slightest inclination to file charges. A Federal Judge finally forced their hand.
In more detail, two individuals, call them A and B, “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials,” without registration, to seek a pardon for a third person, call them C. Their scheme appears to have born fruit, since they got as far as to identify an intermediary in the White House for the bribe, determined what the President would accept, and worked out the form of the bribe – a campaign contribution. It is not clear whether this trove of evidence ties the President to this scheme in some direct, documentary manner, but in practical terms it cannot have reached that stage without his participation. The brief makes clear that the conspirators had communications with someone in the White House Counsel’s office, who was identified in the brief.
It isn’t clear when any of these events occurred, though the request for a campaign contribution lends itself to a recent date. We also don’t know whether C actually received their pardon.
Who was C? A slip in the redaction, exposing an apostrophe on page 16, suggests that C’s last name ends in an “s.” It also appears to be a short name, perhaps 5-7 characters, but it’s tough to guess.
An interesting exercise might be to review the list pardons issued by Trump. There haven’t been many. Identify the attorneys involved. Then see who on that list of attorneys has been in legal trouble over the past year or so.
Trump issued a tranche of pardons to some wealthy and particularly crooked Republican figures back in February, including Michael Milkin, Eddie DeBartolo, and one of the figures involved in the Abramoff scandal. The odor over those pardons might mark the best place to start digging.
The most important thing we learned from this filing is that Bill Barr spent the entire election season sitting on evidence that the White House was selling pardons. For at least three months the Justice Department declined to pursue any prosecution against those involved. It still has filed no charges in the case. Bill Barr spent his time as Attorney General using our authority to protect the President from the law. He should face consequences for what he’s done.
This revelation should force Biden’s hand on the question of investigating and prosecuting the President.