Trump fundraiser, Kushner lawyer involved in effort to get pardon for tax evader

Julia Ainsley

WASHINGTON — A Trump campaign fundraiser and a lawyer for the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner were involved in an effort to get a pardon from the White House at the behest of a wealthy octogenarian in the early days of the Trump administration, lawyers for the two men told NBC News.

Elliott Broidy, the fundraiser who has since pleaded guilty in a separate lobbying case, and Abbe Lowell, Kushner's attorney, drew the attention of Justice Department investigators as recently as August of this year, as revealed in a federal court filing unsealed in the District of Columbia District Court on Tuesday.

The New York Times was the first to identify Broidy and Lowell as the men involved in the efforts to secure clemency for California psychologist Hugh Baras at the request of Sanford Diller, a wealthy real estate developer in San Francisco.

The Times reported that as part of the effort, Diller would make a "substantial" political contribution in exchange for a pardon for Baras, citing two people familiar with the inquiry.

Diller died in 2018 and there is no evidence that the effort continued after his death. According to The Times, Baras was not granted clemency and served a federal sentence for tax evasion from 2017 to 2019.

The filing, which was heavily redacted, drew immediate attention because it referred to seized emails that indicated a "'secret lobbying scheme'" in which two unidentified people "acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials, without complying with the registration requirement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act…to secure 'a pardon or reprieve of sentence'" for another unnamed individual.

Lowell's attorney, Reid Weingarten, told NBC News no bribe was paid to the White House and that if Lowell approached the White House Counsel's Office in order to secure clemency for Baras, it was "utterly routine" in his role as a lawyer.

Lawyers are permitted to seek a reduction in sentencing or pardoning for their clients from the president, who is granted the authority to reverse sentences under the Constitution.

"Abbe's role was honorable, predictable, ethical lawyering. It was utterly predictable given the task he was given to accomplish," Weingarten said. "I have no reason to believe he was ever under investigation. I don't think [investigators] ever saw anything that caused them to have a quarrel with his conduct."

William Burck, an attorney representing Broidy, told NBC News that Broidy's involvement was limited to introducing Lowell to Diller.

"Mr. Broidy was asked by Mr. Diller to refer him to a D.C. lawyer who could assist on a clemency petition. Mr. Broidy sent him to Abbe Lowell. That's not lobbying, and Mr. Broidy is not under investigation and has not been accused by anyone of any wrongdoing whatsoever," Burck said.

The White House referred questions about the investigation to the Justice Department. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.