“The attorney-client privilege does not protect communications disclosed to third parties,” the judge wrote.
Howell’s ruling said prosecutors are investigating a “bribery-for-pardon scheme” in which someone “would offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for an unidentified person.
Despite the rather direct language in Howell’s ruling, Trump dismissed news reports of a probe into possible corruption of the pardon process.
“Pardon investigation is fake news,” Trump tweeted Tuesday night.
A Justice Department official suggested the focus of the investigation was not on White House officials. “No government official is the subject or target of the investigation referenced in the court opinion,” said the DOJ official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Howell’s opinion provides tantalizing hints about the probe. She says it involved the seizure of more than 50 digital media devices, such as phones, iPads and laptops. In addition, it appears the pardon probe grew out of an earlier investigation.
The judge said prosecutors also said they were investigation whether lobbying efforts for a pardon violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act because those involved didn’t register under the law, but Howell threw cold water on that, noting that the law’s requirements are fairly loose and allow some lobbying for clients without registering.
Prosecutors opposed releasing the memo, even in redacted form, but Howell — an appointee of President Barack Obama — overruled their objections. The judge’s August opinion described the investigation as “sensitive and ongoing.” But her description of why prosecutors wanted the entire opinion kept under wraps simply quoted them as saying it “identifies both individuals and conduct that have not been charged by the grand jury.”