On Sunday, the New York Times revealed that pardon-seekers and those lobbying on their behalf paid Trump’s supporters tens of thousands of dollars to press the president to grant clemency.
The Times stated that pushes for pardons have escalated, citing records and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and attorneys, as people realized that Trump’s election threats will not be successful and as his administration has entered its final days.
Among those raising tens of thousands of dollars in recent weeks, former federal prosecutor Brett Tolman, who has advised the Trump administration on pardons, is asking the president to lobby many individuals, including the son of a former Arkansas senator, the founder of the Silk Road online drug marketplace, and a Manhattan woman who, according to the Times, pleaded guilty to fraud.
Trump’s administration has claimed that Tolman has helped “less-connected” citizens to seek clemency, although no public records show that Tolman was paid for that.
On Friday, Tolman said on Twitter that 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.”
Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, John Dowd, has also taken in tens of thousands of dollars from customers, including a rich sports gambler, pointing to his intimate friendship with the president to lobby for clemency and urging them to address Trump’s complaints about the justice system.
Karen Giorno, a former Trump campaign adviser, was granted $50,000 to get a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer accused of disclosing a CIA officer’s identity in waterboarding an American prisoner. A copy of the agreement obtained by the Times reveals that if Trump pardoned Kiriakou, she will receive a $50,000 bonus.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The pardon granting mechanism was run by Trump and his administration differently than other administrations, which benefited those related to or willing to pay Trump or his allies, pardon lawyers told the Times.
Former U.S. pardon attorney Margaret Love told the newspaper, “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,”
It is not illegal to pay allies to the president to petition for a pardon because only payment proposals to the president may be prosecuted for violating bribery laws. There has been no suggestion that money was given to Trump himself in return for clemency.
Earlier this month, the Times reported that Trump had publicly discussed seeking to pardon himself and his children. Any such pardon would apply only to federal offenses, and if challenged, it’s unclear if a self-pardon would stand up.
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.