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Leaker: Some of Michael Cohen’s financial records have suspiciously gone missing from a Treasury database

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Now, there could be an innocent explanation. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that a president’s lawyer was under federal investigation and suddenly records documenting his dubious transactions mysteriously disappeared from an executive branch department

Wait, I’m being handed a bulletin. It says here … it would be the first time that had ever happened. Well then!

Ronan Farrow doesn’t specify whether the leaker he spoke to is the same guy who gave Michael Avenatti the information about Cohen’s financial records or if this is a second leaker who handed documentation of the same info to media outlets like the Times. Presumably it’s the same guy. Either way, prior suspicions about the nature of the documentation are confirmed. It is indeed a “Suspicious Activity Report,” which banks are required to file with the Treasury Department whenever they notice something happening in a bank account that doesn’t look quite right to them. Avenatti’s been crowing for months that SARs are what would ultimately blow the lid off Michael Cohen’s funny business. Coincidentally, despite it being highly illegal for the government to publish them, one ended up in his hands.

But here’s the wrinkle. According to Farrow’s source, there were three SARs for Michael Cohen filed by First Republic Bank dating back to last year. One, covering the period from September 2017 to January of this year, contains the info about Novartis, AT&T, and Korea Aerospace Industries that Avenatti revealed last week. (If you read these posts, you know all about it by now.) The other two, stretching from late 2016 to June 2017 and then from June 2017 to September 2017, reportedly include details involving another $3 million flowing into Cohen’s account. But somehow, some way, they’ve … disappeared from the database maintained by FINCEN, the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. They were there before, they’re not there now.

Which is, apparently, very, very unusual.

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.)

That’s the best-case scenario for the White House. It was prosecutors who asked for Cohen’s SARs to be yanked, whether because they feared they would leak to the media (understandably!) or because they feared a Trump ally at Treasury might share the info with Trump or Cohen himself to clue him in on what the feds know and what they’re looking at. The worst-case scenario is that, er, this is egregious obstruction of justice by someone who surreptitiously deleted the SARs to try to thwart Cohen’s prosecution. If that’s what happened, we have a great mystery to solve. On whose authorization did the deleter nuke those records?

In either scenario, though, you’re left with a question: Why was the third SAR, the one that leaked, left in the database? If you’re going to purge information that’s damaging to Cohen for whatever virtuous or nefarious reason, logic dictates that you’d want to remove all of it. What Avenatti published was shady enough. Another thing: Surely there must be some log of who removed the SARs from the database and when, and just as surely they must be recoverable. To think that all trace of them could be wiped away by pulling them off the FINCEN database makes no sense. Some people, like Farrow’s source, would have already noticed that there were three reports before and only one now. And the banks that submitted them to FINCEN presumably have copies of them, or can re-create them if need be based on records of transactions in Cohen’s accounts. If deleting the records is an attempt at a cover-up, it seems like a half-assed one.

A little more from Farrow. The two missing SARs are from First Republic Bank, the one that housed the “Essential Consultants” bank account that Cohen used to pay Stormy Daniels and to receive payment from corporate clients whom he was, ahem, “consulting.” But other banks filed SARs on him too:

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney filed a separate sar showing that, during that same three-month period (June to September 2017), 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).

Not great! But also not easily explained if there’s a behind-the-scenes effort at FINCEN to cover up Cohen’s shady transactions. If you’re going to nuke some of Cohen’s records to try to protect him, you’d probably want to also nuke the one by a globally famous investment bank suggesting bribery, no?

One last quote for you, but this one’s not from Farrow. I mentioned in this post earlier this afternoon that the Daily Mail had claimed that Cohen solicited big bucks from a Qatari official during the presidential transition and told him that he’d pass some money along to “Trump family members.” The detail about passing cash to the Trumps remains unconfirmed. But the fact that Cohen hit up the Qatari for money? Now confirmed by WaPo:

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, solicited a payment of at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016, in exchange for access to and advice about the then-incoming administration, according to several people with knowledge of the episode…

Cohen’s offer to Qatar came as he was bragging to others that he could make millions from consulting on Trump and that foreign governments would be interested in having his expertise. At the time, Cohen was also angling, unsuccessfully, as it turned out, to enter the White House, telling associates that he might become counsel or chief of staff.

Eh, it’s just more gossip spread by anonymous sources, right? Not quite: The Qatari official, Ahmed al-Rumaihi, confirmed to the Intercept in an interview earlier today that Cohen hit him up for a mil. Quote: “Al-Rumaihi said Cohen asked him for an upfront fee of $1 million for his services in the midst of their conversation about a potential Qatari investment in U.S. infrastructure.” The bit in WaPo’s except about Cohen jockeying for a White House job at the time can’t be emphasized enough. Leaning on some corporation for a bribe — sorry, I mean a “consulting fee” — when you’re working in the private sector and promising access to the president is scummy but pretty mundane scum by Washington standards. Hitting up a foreign government for money when you anticipate working for the U.S. government yourself sounds a lot like pretty straightforwardedly soliciting a bribe. Cohen denies everything, of course.

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Lesley Stahl: Trump told me he attacks the media so that people won’t believe us when we report bad news about him

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I mean, obviously. A scandalized shiver runs through the room in the clip after Stahl says this but nothing about Trump is as transparent as his strategic goal in gaslighting people about “fake news.” Here’s something I’ve linked before, written two days after his inauguration and attempting to explain why Sean Spicer held that embarrassing “these were the biggest inauguration crowds ever!” press conference. Among the suggested reasons:

The point of carping about “fake news” isn’t to discredit the stories that are false, it’s to discredit the stories that are true. It’s the same as the “witch hunt” rhetoric about Russiagate, which has already produced five guilty pleas and 17 indictments. Any politician pinned to the wall by damaging news would kill to have a reservoir of suspicion about the media among their base that they can call on in a pinch to defuse that news. The goal isn’t necessarily to get people to disbelieve a story but to stoke enough doubt about the reliability of its narrators that the public will conclude there’s no way to know what’s truth and what isn’t. That’s the art of the gaslight. And the author I quoted above also anticipated that:

If ever there was a “tell” about Trump’s strategy, it was this tweet posted 17 days after he was sworn in. It’s one thing to claim that reporters are slanting their coverage to disfavor him, as that obviously does happen. It’s another to suggest that pollsters are engaged in willful fraud, en masse, to make him look bad by manipulating their data and willing to risk their professional reputations in doing so:

Everything that’s bad for him is “fake” and you shouldn’t believe it, and if you do you’re siding with Them over him. He’s not coy or in any way subtle about this. This is a guy, remember, who back in the day used to dial up reporters posing as his own PR flack to tout his wealth or his womanizing or whatever. Subtlety’s not his thing, certainly when dealing with the media. The reason there are murmurs in the room after Stahl tells her story, I think, is just because he’s willing to cop to the gaslighting openly, even to a member of the media itself. It’s all just a game, played to a strategic end. Why pretend otherwise?

In lieu of an exit question, something unrelated but fun. Apparently Trump’s inimitable Twitter style is, in fact, imitable:

“West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style, according to two people familiar with the process,” the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports.

The details: “They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump’s Twitter feed often appears.”

That’s GOP-style populism in microcosm. You’ve got one guy, the populist-in-chief, whose grammar and spelling are not the best but whose style is “authentic” and “relatable.” And then you’ve got a coterie of well-educated phonies and cronies mimicking him, pretending to be stupid in the same way because that’s what he wants and they’re convinced that that’s what the people want. No one has any incentive, political or financial, to be better. Sad!

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Trump Goes Scorched Earth on FBI Spy Campaign: ‘Follow the Money, the Spy Was Only There to Help Crooked Hillary Win’

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President Trump unleashed on the FBI’s infiltration of his campaign Tuesday evening in a pair of tweets.

The President said, “Follow the money!” the spy wasn’t there to find ‘Russian collusion,’ he was there to help Crooked Hillary win the election!

President Trump, please never stop tweeting!

President Trump lit up Twitter Tuesday evening after he tweeted what we are all thinking–the spies infiltrated his campaign for political purposes to help Hillary Clinton win the election.

Trump tweeted: If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal…

Trump then slams Crooked Hillary: …Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win – just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!

The informant, Stefan Halper, was paid a total of $411,575 in 2016 and 2017 for work with the US government that included spying on the Trump campaign.

It was a lucrative business for Stefan Halper.

Now the Democrats are in spin mode.

They went from ‘there was no spy inside of Trump’s camp’ to ‘the informant was there to help protect Trump against the Russians.’

Former DNI Chief James Clapper is claiming embedding spies is “a standard investigative practice.”

Hillary Clinton wanted to spy on her political opponent and she accomplished her goal with help from Obama’s weaponized intel agencies.

President Trump is right; Spygate is worse than Watergate.

Earlier Tuesday, President Trump told reporters, “If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country.”

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Shouldn’t Publix be forced to bake the Latin cake?

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Palette cleansers don’t usually come this sweet … if we’re still permitted to use that phraseology. A family celebrating the graduation of their son with high honors had ordered a cake made from the local Publix supermarket, using their online system to proudly display Jacob Kosinski’s status as a summa cum laude student. Just one problem, the online system responded — they don’t allow obscenities on their cake designs.

Shouldn’t they be forced to bake the Latin cake?

Cara Koscinski organized a graduation party for her 18-year-old son. For the occasion, she ordered a cake online from her nearest grocery store, Publix, which lets customers build their own cakes complete with a customized inscription, which they enter into a message box marked “cake message option.”

Carefully, she typed in the words she wanted on the cake: “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018.”

Publix’s online system was unhappy with the word “cum.”

Good Lord. This is less about mandatory cake-baking than it is about cultural ignorance and classical illiteracy. We stopped teaching Latin as a compulsory subject in most schools decades ago, but this Latin phrasing in particular remains very common — used in all college and university graduations, and many high school degrees, too. Magna cum laude is understood by most people not to be a reference to a particular prophylactic, for Pete’s sake.

Publix apologized and returned the family’s money, which is as much as they can do for this particular error. It should remind them to pay attention to the special instructions in their own flippin’ system, however, especially when the customer calls to explain it to them in plain English. If Publix doesn’t want to make cakes for a particular special occasion or to proclaim a particular message, they shouldn’t be forced to do, and neither should anyone else. But is it too much to ask that they check out requests to ensure that they really object to it?

At least Jacob has a pretty clear understanding about the nonsensical levels of political correctness and ignorance he’ll encounter in the wider world. It might keep him more grounded than most other high school graduates entering colleges and universities this fall. In the meantime, let’s offer a Latin lesson for bakeries around the country, just in case they need to conjugate. In the language sense, that is.

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