Report identifies key players in alleged Trump pardon scheme

A well-connected, now-deceased billionaire led an effort to obtain a Get Out of Jail Free Card from Donald Trump for his incarcerated friend

Chris Riotta
New York
Friday 04 December 2020 16:47 GMT
Constitutional law expert calls Trump's alleged pardon bribery scheme an 'extreme abuse of power'
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A new report has identified several key players involved in the alleged presidential pardon bribery scheme that became the subject of a Justice Department investigation in the final days of Donald Trump’s White House.

The alleged scheme — revealed in explosive news reports earlier this week — involved Abbe Lowell, one of the most influential attorneys in Washington who was hired by a now-deceased billionaire Republican donor, Sanford Diller, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Mr Diller, a real estate magnate in California, allegedly spearheaded the bribery scheme in an effort to assist his friend, a Berkeley psychologisrt named Hugh Leslie Baras.

Baras, 70, was convicted on tax evasion and theft of government property charges in 2014 and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. He was released last year.

Reid Weingarten, an attorney representing Mr Lowell, confirmed his client represented Baras during the 2014 trial while defending him in an interview with ABC News.

“Abbe came to believe there were legitimate arguments to be made that this guy shouldn't do time. Seeking clemency is a completely normal route," Mr Weingarten said. “The fact that he pursued that -- there's nothing wrong with it."

As part of the alleged scheme, Mr Diller would make an unspecified political contribution. The billionaire died in 2018.

No government officials were subjects in the Justice Department probe, officials said. The status of the investigation remained unclear as of Friday.

The court documents did not disclose details of the alleged crime or the identities of those involved.

The Justice Department had to ask the judge's permission to view certain emails between a lawyer and clients. The judge granted the request in August, finding attorney-client privilege did not apply.

At the time, the president described the investigation as "Fake News!" on Twitter.

Mr Weingarten added that when he last spoke with Justice Department officials about the inquiry, "they left me with the impression they didn’t have the slightest quarrel with anything Abbe did."

A Justice Department official on Tuesday told reporters that no government officials are the subject or target of the probe disclosed in the court filing. 

Additional reporting by Reuters

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