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Former Trump Official Funded by “Dark Money” To Seek Presidential Pardons

January 9th, 2022 14:27

US media report­ed last Decem­ber about the role of con­ser­v­a­tive “dark mon­ey” and an unreg­is­tered lob­by­ist in seek­ing Pres­i­den­tial par­dons from out­go­ing US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Accord­ing to a Dai­ly Beast report on for­mer Trump Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cial Matthew Whittaker;

Decem­ber 1, 2021 In Don­ald Trump’s final months in office, lob­by­ists swarmed the White House in hopes of secur­ing par­dons for their clients. It was a cash bonan­za for Belt­way insid­ers aspir­ing to bend the aggriev­ed president’s ear, as dis­clo­sures required by fed­er­al law lat­er revealed. But one per­son stands out among that crowd, both for his for­mer role in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and for the fact that he nev­er reg­is­tered as a lobbyist—even though he was being paid $400, 000 by a con­ser­v­a­tive “dark mon­ey” group that had tapped him to lead its efforts to secure par­dons and com­mu­ta­tions. Matthew Whitak­er held senior roles in Trump’s Jus­tice Depart­ment from Sep­tem­ber 2017 to Feb­ru­ary 2019, fin­ish­ing off his DOJ tenure with a three-month stint as the act­ing attor­ney gen­er­al. And when he final­ly depart­ed the admin­is­tra­tion, he found quite the cushy gig: chair­ing a new project for the right-wing non­prof­it Free­dom­Works. The group brought Whitak­er on in March 2020 to head up its new “Amer­i­can Free­dom Ini­tia­tive,” which Free­dom­Works claimed “aims to rec­om­mend deserv­ing indi­vid­u­als to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion for par­dons and com­mu­ta­tions.” A pre­vi­ous­ly unre­port­ed fed­er­al fil­ing from Free­dom­Works, which does not have to dis­close its donors, shows that the orga­ni­za­tion paid Whitak­er $400, 000 last year in unspec­i­fied “con­sult­ing” fees. That role rais­es a num­ber of eth­i­cal ques­tions for Whitak­er. He was direct­ly involved in White House clemen­cy nego­ti­a­tions pos­si­bly as late as Trump’s last full day in office, but nev­er reg­is­tered as a lob­by­ist while advo­cat­ing for pardons—and Free­dom­Works nev­er named clemen­cy issues in any of its 2020 lob­by­ing reports. Still, Whitak­er is list­ed as an advo­cate in two offi­cial announcements—the Decem­ber clemen­cy grant­ed to con­vict­ed health-care fraud­ster Daniela Gozes-Wag­n­er, and the last-minute con­di­tion­al par­don extend­ed to Stephen Odz­er, who in 2006 plead­ed guilty to more than $16 mil­lion in bank fraud.

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In the US, dark mon­ey gen­er­al­ly refers to polit­i­cal spend­ing by non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions that are not required to dis­close their donors. Such orga­ni­za­tions can receive unlim­it­ed dona­tions from cor­po­ra­tions, indi­vid­u­als, and unions. The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) has report­ed on oth­er instances where so-called dark mon­ey played a role in US politics.