Pardon probe centered on clemency effort for psychologist

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FILE - In this March 22, 2019 file photo, an American flag flies outside the Department of Justice in Washington.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – A California psychologist convicted of tax evasion was at the center of a mysterious, recently disclosed Justice Department investigation into whether White House officials were illegally lobbied to obtain a presidential pardon.

The effort to obtain the pardon for the psychologist, Hugh Baras, involved a prominent Washington attorney and a major donor to President Donald Trump, according to lawyers involved in the case. But lawyers for both men say neither is under investigation.

One of the lawyers, Reid Weingarten, confirmed that the pardon was sought on behalf of Baras. That was also confirmed by another person familiar with the investigation, who insisted on anonymity to discuss a Justice Department investigation.

The new details only partly answer questions that emerged after a court document was unsealed this week revealing that federal prosecutors have been looking as recently as last summer into a possible lobbying and bribery scheme aimed at securing a pardon from Trump.

It’s still not clear who has been targeted in the investigation, what exactly prompted the probe and whether any charges are likely. Most of the information in the 18-page order was redacted, including the identities of the people under investigation.

The New York Times first reported the identities of the people connected to the probe.

The pardon was sought on behalf of Baras, who in 2014 was sentenced to more than two years in prison for tax evasion and theft of government property. Baras did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.

Sanford Diller, a wealthy real estate developer, reached out for help on Baras' behalf to Elliott Broidy, a well-connected Republican donor with whom Diller was acquainted, according to William Burck, a lawyer for Broidy.