A big one tonight for you folks, Ronan Farrow may not have been ready for primetime on MSNBC as a host, but as a reporter for the New Yorker, he's brought down the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Eric Schniederman, and now he's taking a crack at a presidential lawyer and quite possibly a president.
Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.
The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a “suspicious-activity report” filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
The general counsel for Novartis, Felix Ehrat, abruptly resigned earlier today. Now we know why.
The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or SARS, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions—triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these SARS were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, “I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.” The official added, “That’s why I came forward.”
Seven former government officials and other experts familiar with the Treasury Department’s FINCEN database expressed varying levels of concern about the missing reports. Some speculated that FINCEN may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility “explosive.” A record-retention policy on FINCEN’s Web site notes that false documents or those “deemed highly sensitive” and “requiring strict limitations on access” may be transferred out of its master file. Nevertheless, a former prosecutor who spent years working with the FINCEN database said that she knew of no mechanism for restricting access to SARS. She speculated that FINCEN may have taken the extraordinary step of restricting access “because of the highly sensitive nature of a potential investigation. It may be that someone reached out to FINCEN to ask to limit disclosure of certain SARS related to an investigation, whether it was the special counsel or the Southern District of New York.” (The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The Southern District is investigating Cohen, and the F.B.I. raided his office and hotel room last month.)
Whatever the explanation for the missing reports, the appearance that some, but not all, had been removed or restricted troubled the official who released the report last week. “Why just those two missing?” the official, who feared that the contents of those two reports might be permanently withheld, said. “That’s what alarms me the most.”
So we have a whistleblower with accusations of "nitroglycerine factory in an earthquake" level of explosiveness here. They are facing five years in prison and a quarter-million dollar fine, possibly. But the fact is that the two missing reports could very well be the details of a massive bribery scandal that reaches the Oval Office.
By January of this year, First Republic had filed the three suspicious-activity reports about Cohen’s account. The most recent report—the only one made public so far—examined Cohen’s transactions from September of 2017 to January of 2018, and included activity totalling almost a million dollars. It alludes to the two previous reports that the official could not find in the FINCEN database. The first report that the official was unable to locate, which covered almost seven months, appears to have listed a little over a million dollars in activity. The second report that the official was unable to locate, which investigated a three-month period between June and September of 2017, found suspect transfers totalling more than two million dollars.
A substantial portion of this money seems to have ended up in Cohen’s personal accounts. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney filed a separate SARS showing that, during that same three-month period, Cohen set up two accounts with the firm, into which he deposited three checks from his Essential Consultants account, two in the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and one in the amount of five hundred and five thousand dollars. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney marked those transactions, which added up to more than a million dollars, as possible signs of “bribery or gratuity” and “suspicious use of third-party transactors (straw-man).”
This is pretty huge. Cohen was already in a boatload of trouble from accusations of bribery from earlier today. Now things just got exponentially worse in a matter of hours.