Pardon-seekers and those lobbying on their behalf have paid allies of President Trump tens of thousands of dollars to press the president to grant clemency, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
The Times, citing documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers, reported that pushes for pardons have intensified as people realized Trump’s challenges to the election would not be effective and as his presidency has reached its final days.
Former federal prosecutor Brett Tolman, who has advised the Trump administration on pardons, is among those collecting tens of thousands of dollars in recent weeks to ask the president to lobby several people, including a son of a former Arkansas senator, the founder of online drug marketplace Silk Road and a Manhattan woman who pleaded guilty for fraud, according to the Times.
The Trump administration has said that Tolman has assisted “less-connected” individuals obtain clemency, and no public records indicate Tolman was paid for that.
On Twitter on Friday, Tolman said he has “represented many to get clemency. Some have been paying clients, many have been pro bono. I’m proud of my team’s clemency work.”
John Dowd, Trump’s former personal lawyer, has also taken in tens of thousands of dollars from clients, including a wealthy sports gambler, pointing to his close relationship with the president to push for clemency and advising them to discuss Trump’s complaints about the justice system.
A former Trump campaign adviser Karen Giorno was provided $50,000 to try to get a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who was convicted for revealing the name of a CIA officer involved in waterboarding an American prisoner. A copy of the agreement obtained by the Times indicates that she would receive a $50,000 bonus if Trump pardoned Kiriakou.
Trump and his administration have operated the pardon granting system differently from other presidents, which has benefited those connected to or able to pay Trump or his allies, pardon lawyers told the Times.
“This kind of off-books influence peddling, special-privilege system denies consideration to the hundreds of ordinary people who have obediently lined up as required by Justice Department rules, and is a basic violation of the longstanding effort to make this process at least look fair,” former U.S. pardon attorney Margaret Love told the newspaper.
It is not illegal for allies to the president to be paid to lobby for a pardon as only offers of payment to the president could be probed for breaking bribery laws. There has been no evidence that Trump himself has been offered money in exchange for clemency.
The Times reported earlier this month that Trump had openly discussed attempting to pardon himself and his adult children. Any such pardon would only apply to federal crimes, and it’s unclear if a self-pardon would hold up if challenged.
The self-pardon could come after Trump was impeached last week on a charge of inciting violence at the Capitol that resulted in five deaths. The Senate trial is slated to begin after he leaves office.