“The lawyer-client privilege does not protect communications communicated to third parties,” the judge wrote.
According to Howell, prosecutors are investigating a system of “bribery for grace” in which someone would “offer significant political contributions for an unknown person in exchange for presidential pardon or revocation of a sentence.”
Although Howell’s decision was fairly direct, Trump dismissed the investigative news of possible corruption in the pardon process.
“Grace investigation is false news” Trump tweeted Tuesday night.
An official from the Department of Justice suggested that the investigation should not focus on White House officials. “The subject matter or target of the investigation referred to in the court’s opinion is not any government official,” said a DOJ official who made an anonymous statement.
Howell’s opinion gives tantalizing tips about the probe. According to him, they involved the seizure of more than 50 digital media devices such as phones, iPads and laptops. In addition, the pardon test appears to have been derived from an earlier investigation.
According to the judge, prosecutors also said they were investigating whether lobbying efforts for pardon violated the Lobbying Act because those involved did not register under the law, but Howell threw cold water at it, noting that the law’s requirements were quite are loose and allow some lobbying for clients without registration.
Prosecutors opposed the issuance of the reminder, even to change it, but Howell, appointed by President Barack Obama, overruled their objections. The judge’s August opinion described the investigation as “sensitive and ongoing.” But the description of why prosecutors wanted to keep the whole opinion a secret simply quoted them, saying it “identifies persons and conduct that the Grand Jury did not accuse”.