Subject of Trump pardon-for-pay scheme has apparently been revealed, but more mysteries remain
In the last two weeks, Donald Trump has granted an all-purpose pardon to Michael Flynn, and is reported to be preparing preemptive pardons for Rudy Giuliani, himself, and everyone in his extended crime family. But actually, that’s only the start. Trump is reportedly considering handing out his literal get out of jail free cards to scores of campaign staffers and White House aides to absolve them for their participation in his four-year campaign of extortion, fraud, and every point along the sedition to treason highway. None of this should be that shocking, considering how thoroughly Trump has demonstrated his willingness to hand pardons to a top ten list of the nation’s most corrupt.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice was investigating a bribery scheme in which pardons were potentially being offered up in exchange for cold hard cash. That issue is likely connected to the reason behind why the White House liaison to the DOJ has been kicked out of the building. While the news that Trump was angling to pardon someone for dollars generated an immediate search through the list of those indicted by the Mueller investigation, details from the court filing suggested that the name might be someone unconnected.
Now there seems to be both a potential candidate to fill in the blanks on that document, as well as more information in what appears to be a widening investigation into the pardon scheme.
As The New York Times reports, over the summer the DOJ looked into a scheme that involved top GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy and Jared Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell. The subject of their pardon for cash appears to be a psychologist (hopefully, former psychologist) who was slapped with a 30-month sentence after being convicted of tax evasion. Seeing that Trump, as part of his Pardons for Pals program, has already handed out passes for tax fraud, money laundering, campaign finance fraud, mail fraud, securities fraud, and premeditated murder … this seems completely in his wheelhouse.
The problem appears to be that psychologist wasn’t one of Trump’s pals, but more a friend of a friend, in this case fellow billionaire real estate developer Sanford Diller. Diller apparently offered to make a “substantial” donation in exchange for popping his friend from the pen. However, since Diller died in 2018, it appears that the investigation may not be coming right on top of the crime.
The psychologist in question is Hugh Baras who was convicted in 2014 on five counts of tax evasion. After several years of appeals, Baras finally went off to prison where, after serving just over two years, he was actually released in August of 2019.
So … disappointing as it might be to everyone hoping that someone with a higher profile name was cutting Trump a seven figure check for a free pass, the truth is that most of the people who played a prominent role in Trump’s campaign have either already been pardoned, or have been excused from most of their prison sentence because of COVID-19 fears.
However, just because the source of the bribe was someone now dead, and the subject of the bribe was now someone who has been released, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bribe. It also doesn’t make it less interesting that the DOJ is suddenly hot on the heels of a crime that apparently occurred some time before 2018.
What’s left to see is just how far the scheme proceeded. Yes, Baras served out his time behind bars without getting a wave of Trump’s magic Sharpie. But did that happen because someone at some level said no, or was it because Broidy and Lowell had not managed to collect a check before Diller passed on? How many other White House residents knew about the negotiations?
Finally, it’s worth a reminder that Broidy was once the deputy finance chairman of the RNC—just like former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Broidy had to give up that seat when he was caught handing $1.6 million to a former Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair. However, even though Broidy took the fall, there have been rumors from the beginning that the money was the only thing he actually slipped to the model.
As New York Magazine reported in 2018, the revelation of Broidy’s supposed affair came only months after the news leaked that Trump had sent $130,000 to a pair of adult entertainment stars who were not pregnant. And the payments to the model were made using the same NDA and the same false names as the payments Trump made to Stormy Daniels. Oh, and the payments were also routed through Michael Cohen. What did reporter Paul Campos say at the time?
It is still just a hypothesis, but, I would argue, it fits more comfortably with what we know about the various players than the reported version of events: Donald Trump, not Elliott Broidy, had an affair with Shera Bechard. Bechard hired Keith Davidson, who had negotiated both Playboy playmate Karen McDougal’s deal with the National Enquirer and Stormy Daniels’s NDA with Trump. Davidson called Cohen, and the two of them negotiated a $1.6 million payment to Bechard.
So don’t think of this as a bribery scheme that fizzled out when it reached Broidy … think of it as yet another reason why Elliot Broidy might want to explain a few things.