Let the pardon sales begin!

In an extraordinary development, it appears that there’s an investigation by the justice department into allegations that people have been trying to bribe pardons for themselves from Trump.

An alleged “bribery for pardon” scheme at the White House is under investigation by the justice department, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

The heavily redacted document does not name Donald Trump or other individuals and leaves many unanswered questions, but comes amid media reports that the US president is considering sweeping pardons before he leaves office next month.

It shows that the justice department investigation alleges that an individual offered “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence”.

Two individuals acted improperly as lobbyists to secure the pardon in the “bribery-for-pardon schemes”, as the document puts it. The names are blacked out.

The watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew) tweeted in response: “It’s hard to overstate how big a deal the phrase ‘bribery-for-pardon schemes’ is.”

The document was unsealed by the district court for the District of Columbia, in Washington. Some of its 20 pages are entirely redacted, implying that revealing the details now might jeopardise an ongoing investigation.

They discuss a review by chief judge Beryl Howell in late August of a request from prosecutors for documents gathered for the bribery investigation. More than 50 digital devices including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives and computer drives were seized after investigators raided unidentified offices. It was not clear why Howell decided to release the filing now.

That Trump would be willing to sell pardons is very plausible. A grifter like him who sees everything in terms of money-making to benefit himself would sell the White House itself if he could.

Another unsurprising report is that he is exploring giving pre-emptive pardons to his children, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Rudy Giuliani, and others. Given that he is particularly fond of daughter Ivanka who is being investigated for misuse of inaugural funds and had to gave a deposition on Tuesday, a pardon for her in particular would be attractive to him.That particular investigation is by the attorney general for Washington, DC and it is not clear if a pardon would cover her. Presidential pardons are only for federal crimes and do not cover crimes prosecuted by the states.. But DC is under federal jurisdiction and Congress has delegated some power to its government. So its status is murky.


  1. Who Cares says

    Just keep in mind that one of the conditions of accepting a pardon is that you admit that you committed the crime you are pardoned for,

  2. Tadas says

    “Bribery for pardon” is more criminal sounding than “quid pro quo”. And more appropriate. Do we have time to impeach him again?

  3. johnson catman says

    re Tadas @3: He can be impeached AFTER he leaves office. He just wouldn’t be removed from the office.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Who Cares @#2,

    That will not deter people. They are shameless. They will accept the pardon and then deny guilt. Unless you get them to sign an affidavit admitting their guilt before granting them a pardon, which of course Trump will not do.

    I have worried about Biden pardoning Trump because presidents like to form a self-protecting clique. It would be very interesting if he demanded of Trump that he sign such a document before he receives a pardon.

  5. billseymour says

    I’ve read (here on FtB, I think) that accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt. Also that a person who gets pardoned can’t refuse to testify by “pleading the fifth” in a trial about the crime the person was pardoned for. Somebody who’s a lawyer please correct me if I’m wrong.

  6. Marja Erwin says

    That comes from Burdick v. United States. Burdick was a reporter, and refused to real his source. The government tried to pardon him so that he wouldn’t have 5th Amendment protections, and could be forced to reveal his source. The supreme court ruled that he could refuse the pardon.

    In some cases, people have been pardoned because of proof of innocence, so it can’t always be taken as an admission of guilt.

  7. says


    I’ve read (here on FtB, I think) that accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt.

    There aren’t many times when it comes up, since being pardoned puts you in the same legal position as someone who was never convicted in the first place. Private individuals or corporations are largely unaffected by this. If you are free to hire / fire / divorce / flip off someone because you’re aware they were arrested but not convicted, and hold the belief that the underlying actions for which they were under arrest prove them to be a bad person regardless of whether or not they constituted a crime, then you are free to hire / fire / divorce / flip off someone who was arrested & convicted but pardoned.

    It can, however, come up in circumstances like when the government has to decide whether someone will be granted a security clearance. In those cases, the government is generally entitled to presume that the pardoned person is factually, though not legally, guilty of the underlying bad act. However, this presumption can also be rebutted.

    I’m not sure where this distinction would even be useful, however. I mean, I’m sure there are circumstances in which a court woud find it relevant, but I don’t know what they would be. The government has extraordinary lattitude in granting or withholding security clearances, so all they’d have to do to rationalize denying a security clearance after you successfully rebut the presumption that you were guilty (for instance if you were pardoned because dna evidence exonerated you) is assert that clearance investigators couldn’t be certain you didn’t have anti-government prejudices left over as a result of anger at your unjust conviction.

    I think you’d be much more likely to run into a situation where the distinction between an entitlement to assumption (which can’t be rebutted) and a presumption (which can) when dealing with regulatory bodies like the SEC which (IIRC) has the ability to disqualify a person from serving as an officer for a publicly traded company. If a pardoned person wanted to serve and got a relevant job offer, the SEC (again, IIRC) has to have an actual justification, not a mere semi-rational excuse (as in security clearances), for denying the company who wants to employ that person the freedom to do so.

    In that environment, I could see an assertive SEC employee denying a pardoned person the ability to serve and then being required to reverse that decision if a court found that there was sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption.

    So pardons carry with them an imputation of guilt, but that’s not the same as a hard admission of guilt. Nevertheless, for most purposes it doesn’t matter. It only matters when interacting with the government and not even for all purposes in government interactions.

    TL/dr: It’s probably better to say “imputation of guilt” or “rebuttable presumption of guilt”, but the details of that aren’t going to matter most times.

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