Michael Avenatti might have made his first big mistake, or not.
Two days ago, Avenatti released bank records demonstrating that Michael Cohen received $500,000 from a Russian oligarch who had already been deposed by Robert Mueller. Almost more shockingly, the same report indicated that Cohen received payments from corporate giants AT&T and Novartis. These payments clearly represented “money for access” at a minimum, and outright “money for policy” is still an “at worst” real possibility.
In publishing the records through MSNBC and other media outlets, Avenatti bravely gave the country its most direct evidence yet that we have just scratched the surface of the corruption going on within this administration. He also perhaps committed a felony, or at least exposed the fact that someone else committed a felony, because there is no way for Avenatti to lawfully possess those bank records. That’s a problem.
Martin Sheil, a retired branch chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation division, told The Daily Beast that whoever leaked the SARs (Suspicious Activity Report) to Avenatti could face criminal penalties.
“That person has to be either bank connected and therefore knowledgeable as to the confidentiality provisions of the SAR process, or this person could be law-enforcement related,” Sheil said. He added, “Every law-enforcement person who has access to the FinCEN database containing SARs must take an online course that goes over the confidentiality provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act and FinCEN protocols.”
The article theorizes that the level of detail in the report indicates that the documents likely leaked out of the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office, or Robert Mueller’s office. Given Robert Mueller’s reputation, clean as surgical instruments, the assumption is that they likely came from the S.D.N.Y., which is preferable to having been leaked from Robert Mueller, and yet still represents a massive problem.
First, it puts the investigation of Cohen into jeopardy. Cohen’s legal team can go to the judge and allege that the U.S. Attorney’s office is obviously “out to get Cohen.” “Why else,” they will say, “did they leak such sensitive documents to a guy who is on TV more than Law and Order.” Dun Da.
The judge in the case could and nearly surely would sanction the attorney, or if the judge doesn’t know who leaked the documents, appoint a special prosecutor to look into who leaked them and whether they committed a crime (they almost surely did), and prosecute it. The judge could also decide to not allow the United States to use the evidence in a case against Cohen – that would be a drastic remedy, but it is possible. It could even make it harder for Mueller to introduce such evidence into court against Trump if the time ever came.
But, the real damage that could be done is these types of leaks give some credence to the otherwise baseless claims that the “deep state” is out to get president Trump. Believe me, there are all too many Fox pundits and Trump voters ready to be outraged that there could be people in the U.S. Attorney’s office who would violate the law, by leaking these documents, while at the exact same time, able to ignore that the documents near prove that both Cohen and Trump are on the take from Russia and Big Corp America, money for policy, which would also, to say the least, violate the law. They are capable of ignoring the fact that the evidence shows that our president is paid off by foreign adversaries.
We, the people, DO have a right to know that this shit is happening. Abso-fricking-lutely. And, perhaps the “criminal” who “leaked” this stuff would be called the ultimate patriot, someone willing to go to jail to expose the truth, IF there was reason to believe that this information would not otherwise get out. But, AT&T and Novartis have both already admitted to have cooperated with Robert Mueller’s investigation, thus there is every reason to believe that this information was coming out, just not soon enough for some. If this information came out as part of some document dump the day after Trump fired Robert Mueller (theoretically) then we could all agree that some brave patriot put their own personal future at risk to help save the nation. But, that’s not what happened.
An argument can be made that Trump cannot be gone soon enough, he is doing damage to this country every single day, with every day that goes by without a real investigation into whether Russia hacked our electoral rolls – they did, we just don’t know how much, with every day that goes by where John Bolton seems to be aligning us for war with Iran, with every day that Scott Pruitt makes some utterly indefensible deal for an energy company, we all lose. The argument is that such information speeds up the process in getting rid of Trump and his corrupt ass that much faster, avoiding more damage, and is thus justifiable.
Be very very careful of that argument. There might be a time and a place for it, but I don’t think we are there yet. Remember, we want Trump gone because he has disqualified himself from office by his actions, his crimes, not because we don’t like him. In exposing Trump’s crimes, we must not become the flip side of what we fight, willing to take shortcuts in the interests of “justice.” We cannot support a lawless investigation to get rid of a lawless president, or we have left the country worse off than where it would be if Trump simply served out his term and got voted out. Be careful if for no other reason than the fact that there will some day be someone sitting in the Oval Office you DO support, and you damn well can count on a million investigations of that next Democrat, we want those done by the book. We can be sure that Republicans will tell themselves that anything to get rid of President Kamela Harris is worth it, to save “their country.”
I recognize that the situation is dire enough that it is a tough call. I can make a very compelling argument that it is the duty of every patriot in the FBI, CIA and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to leak everything they have on Trump, today, now, because the danger is just so great. But, I don’t think the argument is as compelling as the message to wait, to have faith in Robert Mueller’s team, that the system will work. If there is a reason we lose faith in that system, if Trump moves to fire Mueller (successfully) – then by all means, let’s get UPS group rates from Langely, the FBI, and DOJ to the offices of the NY Times, Washington Post, NBC, CNN and The New Yorker. But, we’re not there yet.
As much as I am happy to have the information Michael Avenatti released, I find myself wishing that I learned it from Robert Mueller, and am worried about what it means that i did not.