Roles of Trump fundraiser, Kushner's attorney were scrutinized in pardon bribe probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Trump fundraiser and a prominent lawyer were among the people scrutinized by the Justice Department for their roles in what a judge described as a possible bribery scheme to win a presidential pardon for a convicted felon, lawyers for the men said Thursday.

Lawyer Abbe Lowell's attorney and friend Reid Weingarten said his client was never a target or subject in the Justice Department's inquiry, while former fundraiser Elliot Broidy's attorney William Burck said his client was "not under investigation and has not been accused by anyone of any wrongdoing whatsoever."

No one has been charged in the investigation, the status of which is unclear.

The New York Times first reported Lowell and Broidy's roles in the case on Thursday evening.

A federal judge on Tuesday released a heavily redacted document which revealed that the Justice Department had obtained possible evidence of a bribery scheme in which someone “would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”

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, U.S. President Donald Trump described the investigation as "Fake News!" on Twitter.

The New York Times reported that the efforts to secure clemency were focused on a Berkeley, California-based psychologist, Hugh Baras, who was convicted in 2014 of tax evasion and improperly claiming Social Security benefits.

As part of the plan, a San Francisco real estate developer, Sanford Diller, would make an unspecified political contribution, it added. Diller died in 2018.

In October - several months after the Justice Department won the request to review the emails in the pardon bribery inquiry, Broidy pleaded guilty in a separate case to illegally lobbying Trump to drop an investigation into a Malaysian embezzlement scandal.

Nothing in those court documents in Broidy's case made reference to conduct concerning the pardon bribery probe.

Broidy's attorney Burck said his client's only role in the matter was putting Diller in contact with Lowell.

Baras, who was jailed for more than two years, did not receive clemency from the White House. He was released from prison in August 2019, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Lowell's attorney Weingarten confirmed to Reuters that Lowell, a well-respected white-collar lawyer who has represented high-profile clients including Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Senator Bob Menendez and Jack Abramoff, did represent Baras.

"Abbe's lawyering was utterly normal," Weingarten told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. "Not exciting, not interesting and not successful. But by the book. There was no bribe, there was no promise of a bribe, and there was no clemency. There was not relief. The guy went to jail."

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.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Stephen Coates)

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