California psychologist emerges in secretive pardon inquiry revealed in court documents

Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

A California psychologist's pursuit of pardon was at the center of a recently-disclosed Justice Department investigation that involved allegations of a scheme to obtain clemency in exchange for a political contribution, a lawyer familiar with the matter said Friday.

The episode involved a mix of high-profile business and political fundraisers acting on behalf of Hugh Baras, a Berkeley, California psychologist convicted in 2014 of tax evasion.

Sanford Diller, a now-deceased billionaire real estate developer, enlisted Elliott Broidy, a prominent Republican fundraiser, to help find a Washington lawyer to assist in the clemency effort for Baras, said William Burck, who represents Broidy. That search resulted in a referral to prominent DC lawyer Abbe Lowell.

"Mr. Broidy is not under investigation," Burck said Friday.

The Justice Department has indicated that "no government official was or is" a target in the investigation.

The connection to Baras was first disclosed by the New York Times after this week's release of heavily-redacted federal court documents that confirmed authorities in August had been reviewing possible evidence of a bribery plot aimed at obtaining clemency.

Among the blacked-out portions of documents were the identities of those linked to the effort, including Baras.

More: Court documents: DOJ reviewing 'secret' pardon bribery scheme targeting White House officials

Baras could not be reached for comment Friday.

The records, unsealed by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge in the Washington, D.C., district, also indicated that unnamed "senior White House officials" were the targets of the alleged plot.

But, according to the court documents, a grand jury investigation had resulted in no charges against at least two people who had drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators.

The disclosure of the court records created an immediate stir as President Donald Trump weighed possible pardons for family members and close associates, some of whom were swept up in the two-year investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

More: Could Trump pardon family members and other close associates? His prior pardons may set the stage for more

More: Can Trump pardon himself? What's a preemptive pardon? Experts explain the sweeping power

Last week, Trump issued a full pardon to former national security adviser Michael Flynn who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador. Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of longtime confidant Roger Stone, a Republican operative convicted of lying to Congress to protect the president's campaign from the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was convicted of lying to the FBI.
President Donald Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was convicted of lying to the FBI.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California psychologist emerges in secretive pardon probe