On second thought: Michael Cohen's records might not be missing from Treasury database, just "restricted"

Ah, well then. Never mind.

Did Ronan Farrow airball last night’s Cohen-scandal three-pointer? In fairness to him, he noted (and I highlighted in my post) the fact that there might indeed be an innocent explanation for “suspicious activity reports” on Cohen going missing from Treasury’s FINCEN database:

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.”

There was always a chance that a prosecutor working on Cohen’s case was the one who “disappeared” his SARs from FINCEN, not some Trump crony at Treasury looking to hide material on Cohen from the DOJ by removing the files. Like I said in the post, it didn’t make sense that someone would try to destroy evidence by eliminating files that could be easily reproduced. The SARs in the Treasury database aren’t original documents, after all. They’re copies of documents compiled by individual banks, based on records of transactions into and out of Cohen’s accounts, and then filed with Treasury. Any diligent prosecutor working on a case against Cohen is going to ask his bank directly for copies of his records rather than relying on a summary that the bank itself prepared for Treasury.

It would be “nearly unprecedented” for SARs in Treasury’s database to be restricted, Farrow noted, but it’s probably completely unprecedented for a sitting president’s lawyer to be tangled up in not one but two pending criminal investigations. Maybe the DOJ had the SARs removed because they contain information that’s especially sensitive under the current legal and political circumstances — for instance, imagine a large payment from a Russian entity in early 2017 that Mueller’s office is trying to run down but which might have a legitimate explanation. If that SAR leaks, the media will go wild, all sides will be alerted to the fact that the feds know about the payment, and meanwhile it may end up amounting to nothing if it turns out in the end there’s a proper business purpose for it. Or, more darkly, maybe the DOJ doesn’t trust Treasury to keep those records confidential if someone from the White House started sniffing around FINCEN to see what prosecutors might be looking at vis-a-vis Cohen.

What’s strange, though, is how freaked out Farrow’s source was at seeing the SARs disappear from the database. Farrow described him as having “spent a career in law enforcement,” in which case wouldn’t/shouldn’t he have known that very occasionally records in FINCEN become restricted? Farrow also noted in painful detail that there’s no “whistleblower” protection for someone who leaks an SAR in the name of thwarting perceived bad behavior by federal officials, as his source admits to doing. The source claims that the disappearance of records from the database alarmed him so much that he seemed certain something nefarious was afoot and had to stop it:

According to FINCEN, disclosing a SAR is a federal offense, carrying penalties including fines of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and imprisonment for up to five years. The official who released the suspicious-activity reports was aware of the risks, but said fears that the missing reports might be suppressed compelled the disclosure. “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.”

Was Farrow’s source … just a hardcore anti-Trumper who somehow convinced himself that an irregularity in the FINCEN database pertaining to Cohen must be the result of a Trumpist cover-up? Did he consult with anyone up the chain about possible innocent explanations for why the two SARs went missing before he decided to seize the third and leak it to the media, or was his paranoia such that he felt it wouldn’t be safe to tell anyone in law enforcement of his concern lest he be targeted for retaliation before he could go public? The saga of Cohen’s financial info being leaked is going to end bizarrely if it turns out this was all a mistake by a jittery Trump-hater inside the government who thought POTUS was suppressing evidence when in reality it was, um, Bob Mueller.

In lieu of an exit question, something new for the White House to worry about on Russiagate. Mueller is squeezing Manafort to flip as hard as he can.

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