The DoJ is looking into claims that lobbyists have tried to use bribes to secure a presidential pardon from President Donald Trump, unsealed court papers show.
They say that in August investigators began investigating a “secret lobbying scheme” possibly involving attempts to contact White House officials.
The redacted filings do not give any names, but the DoJ says no government official is being probed.
President Trump tweeted: “Pardon investigation is Fake News!”
It is common for outgoing presidents to use their right to issue pardons, which wipe out convictions.
Donald Trump – who is due to leave office in January, although he is still contesting his election defeat in the courts – has used the procedure a number of times.
Last week, President Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Meanwhile, media say President Trump has been discussing the possibility of pardoning family members.
The document released by a federal court in Washington DC on December 1 relates to a request by the DoJ to use emails and other communications seized in a bribery-for-pardon inquiry.
The data, prosecutors say in the paper, points to potential “criminal activity”.
According to prosecutors, individuals – whose identities are redacted – appear to have “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials without complying with the registration requirements” for such activity.
Their aim, according to the papers, may have been to secure “a pardon or reprieve of sentence” for another unidentified individual.
According to the documents, prosecutors in August sought a court order “so that the investigative team [could] access” the communications and confront the suspects.
It is unknown who the people targeted were.
On December 1, the DoJ said: “No government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing.”
According to the Pew Research Center, President Trump has so far been less enthusiastic in using his right to grant clemency than any of his recent predecessors.
President Barack Obama, whom Donald Trump replaced in 2013, granted 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations – the most since President Harry Truman in the 1940s and 1950s.