In the wake of explosive reporting Wednesday night that two Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on one of Michael Cohen’s bank accounts had gone missing from a government database, efforts are mounting to launch an investigation into their strange disappearance.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) both called on Thursday for the Treasury Department’s Inspector General (OIG) to examine how the database maintained by the agency’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) may have been compromised.
Those missing files caused a whistleblower law enforcement official to become so concerned, the official decided to leak the remaining SAR of three filed by First Republic Bank in January to news outlets. The leaked report confirmed payments to Cohen’s account by international corporations like Pharma giant Novartis and AT&T. The New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow broke the story.
“The possibility that such documents were improperly removed is an extremely troubling one,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “This information is critical to effective law enforcement, so it is essential that OIG immediately and thoroughly investigates its possible compromise.”
The law enforcement official who leaked the remaining record of suspicious financial activity related to the account for Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, said they were compelled by the highly unusual nature of the missing information to make sure a public record of the remaining report would exist.
“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.”
People familiar with the FinCEN database have since offered varying explanations for why the SARs went missing, with one less nefarious version being that Robert Mueller’s team somehow wanted to safeguard the information because it was so critical to their investigation into Cohen. That said, people are almost uniformly mystified by the disappearance and many people familiar with the database have said they wouldn’t know how to remove the reports even if they wanted to for some reason.
“According to a number of individuals with knowledge of the database cited in this report, as well as other reporting on these allegations,” wrote Sen. Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, “removal or sequestration of SARs is highly unusual if not unprecedented.”
How the Treasury Department responds will be interesting since the inspector general has already launched an investigation into who leaked the information to begin with.
The unnamed law enforcement official who talked to Farrow said they knew there could be harsh consequences for taking action and yet they felt compelled to do so anyway.
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.” […]
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.”