“Attorney-client privilege does not protect communications disclosed to third parties,” the judge wrote.
Howell’s ruling said prosecutors were investigating a “bribery for pardon” system in which someone “would offer a substantial political contribution in return for a presidential pardon or suspended sentence” for an unidentified person .
Despite the rather blunt language of Howell’s decision, Trump has rejected reports of an investigation into possible corruption in the pardon process.
“The pardon inquiry is false news” Trump a tweeté Tuesday evening.
A Justice Department official suggested the investigation did not focus on White House officials. “No government official is the subject or target of the investigation mentioned in the court opinion,” said the DOJ official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Howell’s opinion provides tantalizing clues 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 that the forgiveness inquiry arose from an earlier inquiry.
The judge said prosecutors also said they were investigating whether lobbying efforts for a pardon violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act because those involved did not register under the law. law, but Howell threw cold water on it, noting that the requirements of the law are quite vague and allow lobbying for clients without registering.
Prosecutors opposed the release of the memo, even in a redacted form, but Howell – a person appointed by President Barack Obama – dismissed their objections. The judge’s opinion in August described the investigation as “sensitive and ongoing”. But her description of why prosecutors wanted the entire opinion to be kept a secret simply quoted them as saying that she “identified both individuals and behavior that was not charged by the grand jury.”