Birkenfeld told me how Osborne made the first pitch during a chance encounter they had not long after the presidential election in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Birkenfeld was giving away copies of his book, Lucifer’s Banker Uncensored, about his career and whistleblowing history. Birkenfeld, accompanied by an evangelical pastor who was trying to help him obtain a pardon, offered copies to Osborne and a colleague. During a brief chat about what Birkenfeld was working on, he told Osborne about his interest in securing a pardon. “That is exactly what we do, and we’re doing it for other clients,” Osborne replied, according to Birkenfeld. The lobbyist, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, said, “Corey [Lewandowski] is my partner, and we’re doing this for other people.”
Birkenfeld told me he was taken aback by Osborne’s proposed fee. “When anybody offers something for six figures without a guarantee, there is something rotten in Denmark,” Birkenfeld said. The pastor, whom I agreed not to name because of privacy and professional concerns, likened Osborne’s pitch to “speed dating.” It was “very off-putting and very crass,” he told me.
In an email reply to queries, Osborne told me, “We recommended we could connect him with someone” who could help with Birkenfeld’s desire for a pardon. “I never solicited him,” Osborne added, saying he never took any money from Birkenfeld, Birkenfeld’s associates, or any clients seeking pardons. Asked twice whom he planned to “connect” Birkenfeld with for pardon help, Osborne did not reply.
Birkenfeld told me that his dealings with Osborne and Lewandowski didn’t end at the Trump hotel. His claims reveal a new twist in a larger dynamic by which a number of well-connected lawyers, lobbyists, and Trump associates reportedly cashed in on Trump’s well-publicized plan to grant numerous pardons before leaving office. On his last day as president, Trump granted more than 140 pardons and sentence commutations, including highly controversial ones to close political allies and people with influential backers.
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Birkenfeld, a U.S. citizen who lives in Malta, flew home after his brush with Osborne, and for almost two months, heard nothing more about the offer.
But Birkenfeld said that after another associate, who knew Lewandowski, told him the former Trump campaign aide might be of assistance, Birkenfeld spoke with Lewandowski on the phone for 18 minutes on January 4. They didn’t discuss fees, Birkenfeld told me, but Lewandowski wasn’t shy in suggesting that he could be helpful. “I’m going to see Trump at 11:30 tomorrow regarding pardons,” Birkenfeld recalled Lewandowski saying.
Birkenfeld said he made clear to Lewandowski that he had a team helping him pro bono with a pardon: “I told him I wasn’t paying anybody.” At that point, Birkenfeld asked Lewandowski to speak with a key ally in Washington who was coordinating Birkenfeld’s pardon drive, which Lewandowski did that day.