TFW your network passes on a journalist for being too edgy and he goes on to become a one-man scoop machine and win a Pulitzer! Well-played, NBC: You took a pass on Ronan Farrow and earned yourself a place in history with the world’s dumbest HR decision ever. Slow. Clap.
Okay, let’s break down Farrow’s latest, from last night. It’s a weird one!
Remember last week when Michael Avenatti published that report on all the dirrrrty money pouring into Michael Cohen’s bank account from AT&T and Novartis and the Russian oligarch venture capital fund, because everyone wants Michael Cohen’s very excellent “advice”? The whole thing was totally on the up-and-up, which is why AT&T’s chief lobbyist and Novartis’s general counsel resigned when the story broke.
Except, how the hell did Avenatti, a lawyer from California, get Cohen’s private bank records? Was he also a super-hacker in addition to being a hot lawyer on television and Donald Trump’s worst nightmare?
Avenatti’s information was laid out like a suspicious-activity report (SAR), a document financial institutions must file with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) flagging transactions that look like possible money laundering, terrorist financing, or fraud. But SARs are the kind of government data that DOES NOT LEAK. They’re like tax returns — every click leaves a digital fingerprint, and the penalties for unauthorized disclosure are high.
As it turns out, Avenatti’s report looked like a SAR because it was one. As Farrow details in the New Yorker, there were originally three SARs on Cohen’s financial fuckery, because that guy is a savant! And Avenatti’s source was a whistleblower who saw the first two reports disappear off the FinCEN internal site and leaked the third before it could be memory-holed.
[T]he 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.
WTF????? Details of an additional $3 million in suspicious transactions just disappeared from the government server? Is that normal?
No, Farrow reports that this is not at all normal. But nothing is normal now — we’re being governed by an orange lunatic, and the entire GOP sits there barking and clapping like a pack of trained seals. So, there could very well be a rational explanation.
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.
On the other hand, why remove the first two reports and leave the third?
“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.”
Legal Twitter has THOUGHTS.
Some people see a hamfisted effort by nefarious actors to bury the data — which lives forever on the bank servers anyway.
Plus, all those other SARs from other banks about Cohen transactions (including for his personal accts) were apparently still visible to our whistleblower. That trail of crumbs suggests a removal process that was sloppier than what I’d expect a federal prosecutor to oversee.
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) May 17, 2018
Others assume that Mueller and SDNY are just locking down the information for REASONS.
2. But, I dunno, a hostile foreign power interfering in a presidential election which might implicate folks in POTUS’ inner circle is, well, unprecedented. And in a counterintel matter, there are reasons to put things you know underground so your adversary doesn’t know you know.
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) May 17, 2018
Conservatives and former government employees condemn the whistleblower for leaking.
Anyway, we’ve talked a lot about the importance of defending the rule of law under Trump. What Mueller and SDNY are doing is the rule of law. Some law enforcement official leaking Cohen’s confidential bank records on his own initiative is not the rule of law.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) May 16, 2018
As in the past, the substance of this story of far more important than the source. Buuuut.. I’m inclined to agree with Josh here. It’s not clear that this person made any attempts to resolve this through proper channels and that’s not a good thing. https://t.co/qzrrkEOjVF
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) May 16, 2018
And Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes thinks the whole thing reeks of a post-facto attempt to justify an illegal disclosure. THREAD —
I’ve been thinking about this New Yorker story on SARs missing from a FINCEN database and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but color me at least a little bit skeptical. Here’s why. /1/
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) May 17, 2018
To which Wonkette says:
Although, we note that once the whistleblower started talking to journalists, he had a lot to say. Here he is spilling the beans on Elliot Broidy’s payoff to playboy model Shera Bechard.
The City National report shows that Broidy funnelled the payments through Real Estate Attorneys’ Group, a legal corporation. Broidy seems to have paid Davidson two hundred thousand dollars, and to have sent three payments, of $62,500 each, to Cohen—one to the Essential Consultants account and two to the account of Michael D. Cohen and Associates.
A representative for Broidy said that this description of the payments was “not correct,” and that “Mr. Broidy is not going to detail his payments for legal services to Mr. Cohen.” The representative added, “Mr. Broidy did not pay Mr. Davidson.” However, the City National report shows that on November 30, 2017, a wire of two hundred thousand dollars was received by the Real Estate Attorneys’ Group from Broidy. Then, on December 5, 2017, two hundred thousand dollars were transferred from Real Estate Attorneys’ Group to an account belonging to Keith M. Davidson and Associates.
JUICY! Also, probably not the kind of personal information that should wind up in the paper. And now Ronan Farrow has actually made us feel sort of sorry for Elliot Broidy.
GIVE THAT MAN ANOTHER PULITZER. And then go on over and read the whole thing, because we didn’t even talk about how the bank investigators are now DETECTIVES piecing together
bribes investments from the UAE, like they’ve got their own True Crime podcasts! It’s great.
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