Prospect of pardons fuels money for access
WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump prepares to leave office, a lucrative market for pardons is coming to a head.
Some of his allies have collected fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency, documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers indicate.
The brisk market for pardons reflects the access peddling that has defined Trump’s presidency as well as his unorthodox approach to exercising unchecked presidential clemency powers.
Pardons and commutations are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, but Trump has used many of them to reward personal or political allies.
The pardon lobbying heated up as it became clear Trump had no recourse for challenging his election defeat, lobbyists and lawyers say.
One lobbyist, Brett Tolman, a former federal prosecutor who has been advising the White House on pardons and commutations, has monetized his clemency work, collecting tens of thousands of dollars, and possibly more, in recent weeks to lobby the White House for clemency for the son of a former Arkansas senator; the founder of the notorious online drug marketplace Silk Road; and a New York socialite who pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme.
John Dowd, Trump’s former personal lawyer, has marketed himself to felons as someone who could secure pardons because of his close relationship with the president, accepting tens of thousands of dollars from a wealthy felon and advising him and other potential clients to leverage Trump’s grievances about the justice system.
A onetime top adviser to the Trump campaign was paid $50,000 to help seek a pardon for John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer convicted of illegally disclosing classified information, and agreed to a $50,000 bonus if the president granted it, a copy of an agreement shows.
And Kiriakou was separately told that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, could help him secure a pardon for $2 million.
Kiriakou rejected the offer, but an associate, fearing Giuliani was illegally selling pardons, alerted the FBI. Giuliani challenged this characterization.
After Trump’s impeachment for inciting his supporters before the deadly rioting at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and with Republican leaders turning on him, the pardon power remains one of the last and most likely outlets for quick unilateral action by an increasingly isolated, erratic president.
He has suggested to aides he wants to take the extraordinary and unprecedented step of pardoning himself, although it wasn’t clear whether he had broached the topic since the rampage.
He also has discussed issuing pre-emptive pardons to his children, his son-inlaw and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Giuliani.
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Few regulations or disclosure requirements govern presidential clemency grants or lobbying for them, particularly by lawyers, and there’s nothing illegal about Trump associates being paid to lobby for clemency.
Any explicit offers of payment to the president in return could be investigated as possible violations of bribery laws; no evidence has emerged that Trump was offered money in exchange for a pardon.