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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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Caravan reaches Mexican border, breaks through fence on Guatemalan side

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The migrant caravan reached the southern border of Mexico Thursday night and NBC News reports some have already crossed the border. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal described the situation along the Mexican border as tense:

Tension was palpable in Ciudad Hidalgo, a tiny tropical village in Mexico surrounded by rain forest and banana plantations that borders Tecun Uman in Guatemala, with the two towns separated by a muddy river. Late Thursday, some 300 Mexican federal police officers equipped with antiriot gear were deployed to the border crossing ahead of the caravan’s expected arrival…

Many migrants marched along the river banks on Thursday afternoon. “Let them know that we are going to cross to Mexico!” shouted a man clad with a cap in front of the crowd.

The border between Mexico and Guatemala (at this location) is the Suchiate River. Here’s what that looks like from the bridge spanning the river:

There are gates on both sides of the bridge to control traffic. Buzzfeed’s Karla Zabs is there covering developments this morning. A short time ago the caravan began massing at the Guatemalan gate:

And that led to a standoff. The AP reports that “young men” eventually tore open the barricade and swarmed onto the bridge:

Migrants in a caravan traveling through Central America have broken down gates at a border crossing and are streaming toward a bridge to Mexico.

After arriving at the tall, yellow metal fence Friday, some clambered atop it and on U.S.-donated military jeeps.

Young men began violently tugging on the barrier and finally succeeded in tearing it down.

Men, women and children then rushed through toward the bridge, about 150 yards (137 meters) away.

This tweet translates as “Bombshell! Thousands of Hondurans manage to enter Mexican territory!”

The Noticias video below helps explain the sequence of events. This is a live stream but you can scroll back. First people were massed at the yellow gates on the Guatemalan side of the bridge. Then they broke through those gates and streamed onto the bridge as seen in that clip above. The migrants made their way to the Mexican side of the bridge and, at first, it appeared the gates were open, but they were pushed closed by police with riot shields.

A shoving match ensued between the police and the migrants trying to re-open the gates. Some migrants are throwing things at the police and the police appear to be using batons to keep people’s hands off the gates. Finally, when the gate is shut, you see some men jumping off the bridge into the water where they swim to a nearby raft.

Stalemate, at least for the moment:

I’ll update this post when the situation changes.

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BREAKING: Nellie Ohr Invokes Marital Privilege Preventing Her From Answering Questions About Talks With Her Husband Bruce Ohr

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Nellie Ohr, wife of twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr appeared on Capitol Hill Friday to face lawmakers in a closed-door grilling.

Mrs. Ohr was supposed to appear for a deposition last month but she was refusing to cooperate with lawmakers.

Now this…

Nellie Ohr invoked marital privilege on Friday preventing her from answering questions about her husband Bruce Ohr.

MANU RAJU: Very rare bipartisan agreement: Both sides say Nellie Ohr interview has been led to nothing. She invoked marital privilege preventing her from answering qs about talks with her husband. @MarkMeadows sees no reason to bring her back. @CongressmanRaja calls it a “nothing burger”

Rep. Mark Meadows confirmed Nellie Ohr invoked spousal privilege. 

The House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees sought to question Nellie Ohr after her husband Bruce Ohr gave an explosive testimony to Congress.


The former Associate Deputy Attorney General told Congress the FBI knew his wife, Nellie Ohr worked for oppo research firm Fusion GPS yet failed to disclose that information to the FISC [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court].

Nellie Ohr was paid multiple large payments by Fusion GPS, the oppo research firm that commissioned dossier author Christopher Steele.

Mrs. Ohr also previously worked for the CIA and was a corrupt Communist sympathizer who spoke fluent Russian.

This story is still developing…please check back for updates.

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Disney Princess movies are now problematic

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This week there have been stories about two different Hollywood actresses who both find Disney Princess movies to be problematic in some way. Once celebrities are talking about it, it’s sure to become a trend if it wasn’t one already. First up is actress Keira Knightley who told Ellen Degeneres that she doesn’t allow her daughters to watch Cinderella or the Little Mermaid. From the BBC:

Knightley told Ellen DeGeneres that 1950’s Cinderella “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t! Rescue yourself. Obviously!”

She said of Little Mermaid: “I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello!”

The actress added: “And this is the one that I’m quite annoyed about because I really like the film. I love The Little Mermaid! That one’s a little tricky – but I’m keeping to it.”

I realize there’s probably no upside to arguing about something like this but I guess I expect a bit more from people who actually work in the film industry telling stories for a living. Cinderella is not about a woman waiting around to be rescued by a rich man. That’s missing the real emotional core of the story. Cinderella is about a woman who has been unfairly abused her whole life by her family but whose good qualities are finally recognized and given the respect they are due. The point of the story isn’t that she marries a rich dude, though that does happen. The point is that Cinderella is elevated after years of oppression and her family is punished (violently in some version of the story) for their wicked behavior.

As for the Little Mermaid, I have daughters and I’ve seen this more times than I can count. So I can say with certainty that Knightley gets this one wrong too. In the film, Ariel is obsessed with living life on land and after rescuing a drowning prince she agrees to trade her voice for a chance at happiness (largely because her father refuses to help her pursue her dreams). When Ariel asks how she can win the prince without her voice, the villain suggests she use her looks and pretty face.

But it doesn’t work. Under the villain’s spell, the prince is going to marry the villain until Ariel’s friends intervene and help her get her voice back. It’s only at that moment that the prince realizes Ariel is the one he loves. So, even if you woke-analyze this thing to death, the message isn’t ‘give up your voice for a man and rely on your looks.’ Only the evil villainess recommends that and it doesn’t work. The message here is that a prince will love your voice first and foremost and, in fact, probably won’t love you without it. That seems like a pretty decent message for girls.

Actress Kristen Bell, who starred in Disney’s megahit Frozen, also has problems with at least one of Disney’s princess films. During a recent interview with Parents magazine, she said she talks to her kids about elements of Snow White that bother her, including the kiss:

“Every time we close Snow White I look at my girls and ask, ‘Don’t you think it’s weird that Snow White didn’t ask the old witch why she needed to eat the apple? Or where she got that apple?’ I say, ‘I would never take food from a stranger, would you?’ And my kids are like, ‘No!’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m doing something right.’”

The apple question is not the only one that Bell—a Disney Princess herself as the voice of Anna in Frozen—has after reading the tale. “Don’t you think that it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission?” Bell says she has asked her daughters. “Because you can not kiss someone if they’re sleeping!”

I guess her kids won’t be trick or treating this Halloween since that would also be taking food from strangers. The kiss thing is especially silly. Snow White wasn’t taking a nap, she was all but dead. The dwarves were mourning her. Also, the prince isn’t some random guy. He fell in love with her at the beginning of the film and has been searching for her ever since. The whole point of the kiss is that it’s symbolic of his “true love” not some pervert taking advantage of an unconscious woman. And even when he kisses her he clearly believes she’s dead. The prince is surprised when she sits up, alive. Snow White then falls into his arms and rides off into the sunset with him. She loves him too. She’s happy. There is nothing creepy about it.

I wouldn’t expect your average woke-feminist to care about any of these details but, again, these women tell stories for a living. The details and the symbolism ought to matter a bit more than making some political point. Instead of taking a second look, Bell is now claiming to be the victim of misplaced internet outrage:

Here’s Keira Knightley on Ellen:

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