About those missing Michael Cohen financial records

In an exclusive report by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, Farrow reports that financial records were leaked in connection with Michael Cohen, personal attorney to Donald J. Trump, because a law enforcement official “had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database.” The concern of the law enforcement official related to missing Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”). While the reason for the missing SARs has not been determined, the official who came forward reported that he was concerned that various records had gone missing.

Theories abound about what happened to the missing SARs, from FINCEN removed those records for national security reasons to the more sinister. They may have been removed because the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York or Special Counsel Robert Mueller might have requested they be removed from the database because they are part of the ongoing investigation. But the law enforcement officer is quoted in the Farrow piece:

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.’

Like with many aspects of the ongoing Trump investigations, it is not clear what significance, if any, the missing SARs have and whether the Trump administration has anything to do with their apparent removal. What is most troubling and discounts to a large extent the theory that Mueller or the Southern District of New York requested the SARs be removed is that a few, but not all, of the SARs remained in the FinCEN database. In what continues to be the biggest onion ever found, and one which requires constant peeling, this latest SARs mystery may lead to more people becoming parties to what is looking more and more like a substantial criminal operation.

Daniel Cotter is a lawyer writing and teaching about SCOTUS, and married father of two boys living in Chicago, Illinois.

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