Last week, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti released a summary of some of Michael Cohen’s suspicious financial transactions, which turned out to be real: the pharmaceutical company Novartis paid Cohen $1.2 million over the course of a year; AT&T paid Cohen $600,000 to advise them on the Time Warner merger, and Columbus Nova—an investment company linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg which registered alt-right domains and formerly owned a minority stake in Gawker Media Group, the predecessor to Gizmodo Media Group—paid Cohen $500,000.
But there was one lingering question: how did Stormy Daniels’ lawyer and news outlets get access to Michael Cohen’s bank records?
Well, we have an answer—kind of. The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reports that an anonymous law enforcement official was the one who leaked Cohen’s financial records, and it’s because there was allegedly some even more sketchy shit happening:
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.
According to the official, Cohen had two other “suspicious activity reports” (SARs) aside from the one which provided the basis for Avenatti’s summary, but the official couldn’t find them in the system:
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.”
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.”
FinCEN told the New Yorker in a statement that it wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence whether the allegedly missing SARs exists,” and that it keeps SARs confidential “in order to protect both filers and potentially named individuals.”
Here’s the kicker of Farrow’s piece, emphasis mine:
“We’ve accepted this as normal, and this is not normal,” the official said. “Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me.” Of the potential for legal consequences, the official said, “To say that I am terrified right now would be an understatement.” But, referring to the released report, as well as the potential contents of the missing reports, the official also added, “This is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, and to watch all of this unfold.”
Given what we already know about Cohen and the fact that more information has come out showing he received even more than Novartis and AT&T, the allegations that there are more suspicious payments we don’t know about isn’t that far fetched. And that, of course, pales in comparison to the allegation that the Treasury Department let someone delete politically damaging financial records from the database it uses to figure out who’s doing financial crimes.
So, good on this person for coming forward. Considering Trump and his fellow Republicans are already obsessed with the idea that the deep state is after him, however—not to mention the fact that they’ve managed to turn Fusion GPS into a controversy for pretty much no reason at all—it’s pretty clear that the right is about to take this new piece of information down another rabbit hole where the information and any wrongdoing contained is deemed less important than the source it’s coming from and what his/her/their opinion of Trump is.
Either way, the Treasury Department has already opened a probe into the leak. So, whoever it is, let’s hope they find a good lawyer.
UPDATE, 11:10 AM, 5/17: A spokesperson of Columbus Nova reached out to Splinter this morning to clarify that only domains were registered, not websites. The spokesperson also provided a statement from Frederick Intrater, a design manager at the company who registered the domains:
I feel compelled to make a public statement in the wake of lots of publicity which is trying to connect Columbus Nova with supporting white supremacist or anti-Semitic ideology. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
For many years and with my own money, I have purchased internet domain names relating to various then-topical subject matter with the aim of eventually selling them for profit. Among the more than 100 domain names I have ultimately purchased, there were some names with “alt right” connotations bought at a time when there was mainly an ultra-conservative perception of “alt right”. The only connection to Columbus Nova is that I work there and unfortunately sometimes used my work email address for my personal use and, in this case, to register my ownership of the domain names.
I subsequently thought better of the idea of selling domain names which obviously now have connotations that are inconsistent with my moral beliefs.
So instead of selling them, I left them dormant to let them expire. In retrospect, it was a dumb idea and I never told my brother or anyone else at Columbus Nova that I had done this.
To conclude that I support white supremacy or anti-Semitism is unreasonable given what I’ve described above and also taking into consideration that I am a Jew and the son of a Holocaust survivor.
I truly regret the unexpected outcome of my actions.”