We hope it doesn’t surprise you to learn that nearly four years after entering the White House, Donald Trump and his family do not have, like, the best reputation for ethics, morals, or coming off like they wouldn’t be caught in a scheme to sell stays in the Lincoln Bedroom to pay off their debts. If it does, you will probably also be surprised to learn that the Justice Department recently investigated a suspected attempt by a group of men to offer a bribe in exchange for a presidential pardon, and that one of those men has strong ties to first son-in-law Jared Kushner. (If it doesn’t, the news will strike you as just another Friday in Trumpworld.)
The New York Times reports that earlier this week, a federal judge unsealed documents that revealed “the existence of the investigation into possible unregistered lobbying and bribery,” efforts allegedly undertaken by Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty this fall to a separate crime, and Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell. According to the filing and people familiar with the case, billionaire real estate developer Sanford Diller allegedly enlisted the help of Broidy and Lowell in “securing clemency for a Berkeley psychologist, Hugh L. Baras, who had received a 30-month prison sentence on a conviction of tax evasion and improperly claiming Social Security benefits.” Under the suspected scheme, Diller, who died in February 2018, would make “a substantial political contribution” to an unnamed recipient in exchange for a pardon for Baras. As part of the plot, per the court documents, someone reportedly contacted the White House Counsel’s Office to “ensure” that the “clemency petition reached the targeted officials.” In her order, Judge Beryl Howell said that emails “indicating additional criminal activity” by people involved in the alleged pardon attempt were found as investigators examined more than 50 devices, including iPads, iPhones, thumb drives, laptops, and hard drives, that had been seized as part of a separate investigation.
Speaking to the Times, Reid Weingarten, a lawyer for Lowell, confirmed his client had represented Baras in unfruitful efforts to avoid incarceration (he reported to prison in June 2017 and was released in August 2019). But he claimed Lowell’s role “was simply as a routine lawyer who advocated on behalf of his client unsuccessfully,” claiming the DOJ investigation was “much ado about precious little.” He added: “They investigated and concluded that nothing was amiss. In addition, prosecutors did not have the slightest issue with Abbe.” He also noted that Lowell stopped representing Baras before Kushner became his client and that Lowell never asked Kushner to assist with Baras’s case or any other one related to pardons. Weingarten theorized that the allegations emerged after the feds looked into Broidy’s communications, which presumably contained a whole lot of shady shit:
Mr. Broidy, a California businessman who owns a defense contracting firm based in Virginia, had helped raise money for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, and after the election, he became a top fundraising official for Mr. Trump’s inauguration and the Republican National Committee, as well as a member of Mr. Trump’s private South Florida club, Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Broidy marketed his access to Mr. Trump to potential business partners and others seeking favor from the administration, including foreign governments and interests in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
Mr. Broidy’s efforts to influence the administration had become the subject of federal investigations by the summer of 2018. He had resigned that April as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after the revelation that he had agreed to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair. Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act as part of a covert campaign to influence the Trump administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests. Mr. Broidy, 63, agreed to forfeit $6.6 million to the federal government and to cooperate with prosecutors on a range of potential investigations related to his fellow conspirators and others.
Marc Zilversmit, who represented Baras during his trial and in appeals, told the Times he was not Baras’s lawyer “for the purposes of a pardon” but otherwise refused to comment. A Justice Department official said no one from the government is “currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing.” A lawyer for Broidy said: “Mr. Broidy was asked by Mr. Diller to refer him to a D.C. lawyer who could assist on a clemency petition. Mr. Broidy sent him to Abbe Lowell. That’s not lobbying, and Mr. Broidy is not under investigation and has not been accused by anyone of any wrongdoing whatsoever.” The DOJ declined the Times’ request for comment, and a White House spokesman did not reply to a request for one. Trump, as he is contractually obligated to do, weighed in on the matter via Twitter:
Pardon investigation is Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2020
Trump has previously pardoned or commuted the sentences of dozens of people, many of whom have political or personal connections to him, including his longtime pal Roger Stone, who was convicted of obstruction, witness tampering, and making false statements, as well as former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty twice to lying to investigators about conversations with a Russian diplomat. The president is also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Eric Trump, which is definitely something you do when no one has done anything wrong.
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