Still, the filings provide a glimpse into what investigators are probing.
A redacted court order unsealed Tuesday revealed the existence of an investigation into a "bribery-for-pardon" scheme, in which an unnamed defendant allegedly mounted a White House lobbying effort to receive a pardon in exchange for "a substantial political contribution".
The bombshell investigation became public during a fight over attorney-client privilege that secretly has been underway in federal court in Washington, D.C. since at least August 25 this year, when prosecutors sought permission a judge's permission to override attorney-client privileged communications because of the crime-fraud exception. Howell determined the emails were not subject to attorney-client privilege and were eligible for review as part of the investigation.
No one appears to have yet been charged with any crimes, but the DOJ stated that "over fifty digital media devices, including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumbs drives, and computer external hard drives" were seized in a probe involving what the government called a "secret lobbying scheme". Filter teams are used to insulate prosecutors from privileged information they can't use in court.
That was the first of what is expected to be a string of pardons in Trump's final weeks in the White House.
But the document from August does reveal that certain individuals are suspected of having acted to secretly lobby White House officials to secure a pardon or sentence commutation and that, in a related scheme, a substantial political contribution was floated in exchange for a pardon or "reprieve of sentence". Howell said prosecutors would be allowed access to the information and to "confront subjects and targets of the investigation".
Donald Trump has not conceded the election.
On Nov. 25, Attorney General Bill Barr's Department of Justice urged the judge to keep the entire document sealed, but Judge Howell told prosecutors that greater transparency would be mandatory.
Trump has granted 29 pardons and commuted 16 people's sentences during his presidency, according to the US Pardon Attorney's office. Several of those have gone to people close to the President or whose names would make a splash - including the 19th Century suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Bush-era adviser Scooter Libby and longtime Republican political adviser Roger Stone, who lied to Congress to protect Trump's efforts in 2016.