The Justice Department is investigating claims of a scheme to funnel money to the White House or an associated political action committee in return for a presidential pardon.
The investigation was revealed in a partially redacted court filing from the Washington DC district court that was made public on Tuesday. The documents show Chief Judge Beryl Howell reviewed an August request from prosecutors to go through documents obtained in a search connected to a bribery investigation.
The documents don’t reveal a timeline or the names of anyone involved in any alleged plot to influence the White House, and no-one appears to have been publicly accused of a crime in connection with the investigation so far.
What they do show, however, is that an office raid seized communications between at least two people, one of whom is a lawyer, before the end of this summer, according to CNN. The evidence seized includes more than 50 digital devices including iPhones, tablets, laptops, and computer drives.
Prosecutors were asking for access to the attorney’s communications, which are usually legally protected, because they believed it contained evidence, in the form of emails, showing a "secret lobbying scheme" and plot to swap "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence" for a convicted defendant, whose name is also redacted.
The filing also mentions unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” who tried to arrange a pardon through sending a bribe via an intermediary.
Prosecutors haven’t yet presented any evidence of a payment, but rather that an individual was seeking a pardon on the basis of past and expected political donations.
Investigators also said they planned to “confront” three people with the seized materials and finish their investigation.
The White House has not commented on the story, and the DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.
The president has pardoned 29 people since taking office, including most recently Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, who had pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his conversations with a Russian official.
Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, has discussed receiving a "pre-emptive" pardon from the White House, The New York Times reported, which Mr Giuliani denies.