Ronan Farrow, writing for the New Yorker, published a remarkable report on Wednesday evening on the finances of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s long-time attorney. Farrow’s article is based on an interview with a law enforcement official who leaked a confidential Treasury document known as a “suspicious-activity report” filed by First Republic Bank, with whom Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consulting, has an account. These reports revealed Cohen’s lucrative secret financial deals with numerous corporations inked shortly after Trump won the presidency.
In one of his less-than-savvy moves, Cohen used this same shell company to pay off adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Trump.
The main thrust of Farrow’s story details the reasons why this official leaked these documents — a worthy question, given the fact that doing so exposes the leaker to the risk of jail time. Disturbingly, the official tells Farrow that he was motivated to act after discovering that he was unable to find two other “suspicious-activity reports” (SARs) filed by First Republic Bank that were once filed in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) database — reports that the official claimed detailed “even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account.” So the official leaked the SARs that were still available, fearing that they, too, would disappear.
But tucked away at the end of the New Yorker piece is an intriguing detail about information filed by other banks which raises key questions about the hush money deals Cohen struck with Daniels and others.
Farrow’s report includes details of payments made by Cohen on behalf of Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy, related to a $1.6 million hush money pay-off to a Playboy Playmate named Shera Bechard. (This arrangement, which Cohen claims to have negotiated for Broidy, bears so many similarities to the Trump-Stormy Daniels pay-off that it has given rise to all manner of speculation.)
According to Farrow, the financial records indicate that Broidy paid his lawyer, Cohen, as well as Keith Davidson, the lawyer ostensibly representing Bechard. (Through his attorney, Broidy said this description of the payments was “not correct,” specifically denying paying Keith Davidson.)
One, filed by City National Bank, follows money paid to Cohen by Elliott Broidy, at the time the deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. The report notes, “Broidy also owns a private security company, Circinus, which provides services to the U.S. and other governments. The company has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the U.A.E.” Broidy has said that Cohen and another lawyer, Keith Davidson, worked out a deal in which Broidy would pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model he had impregnated. Broidy appears to have paid both lawyers for arranging the deal. The City National report shows that Broidy funneled the payments through Real Estate Attorneys’ Group, a legal corporation. Broidy seems to have paid Davidson two hundred thousand dollars, and to have sent three payments, of $62,500 each, to Cohen—one to the Essential Consultants account and two to the account of Michael D. Cohen and Associates.
A few days after the New Yorker story published, Davidson released a statement denying the payments were improper and suggesting they were part of the routine processing of the settlement.
Like any lawyer, I maintain an attorney-client trust account, where funds for clients are held. I have never performed legal services for, nor have I ever been compensated for performing legal services for, Elliott Broidy.
While Davidson’s explanation is plausible, this is not the first time questions have been raised about the relationship between Cohen and Davidson. Karen McDougal, another former Playmate who received a hush money payment from AMI, the pro-Trump media conglomerate that publishes the National Enquirer, alleged that Davidson was secretly communicating with Cohen while he was representing her.
After McDougal sued, AMI agreed to cancel McDougal’s non-disclosure agreement and allowed her to keep the money she was paid. The settlement foreclosed the possibility of discovery that could have revealed more details on Cohen’s role in the settlement.
Davidson also represented Stormy Daniels at the time she struck a hush money deal with Cohen. Davidson came to represent Daniels after Cohen learned that she was shopping her story to various media outlets and asked Davidson to look into it.
As recently as this year, Cohen appeared to be coordinating with Davidson, his supposed legal adversary, according to emails released by Daniels new lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
On April 9, the FBI raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. Within 48 hours, Mr. Cohen sent the below email to Mr. Davidson. Why? They had no ongoing legal matter at the time. Was it part of an attempt by Mr. Cohen to obstruct justice or worse? #basta pic.twitter.com/e7DfLSxG4x
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 10, 2018
There is nothing illegal or improper about negotiating a non-disclosure agreement to cover up an affair or alleged affair. But the details about the payments in Farrow’s report provide more grist for the suspicion that the agreements negotiated by Cohen were not arms-length transactions but one where lawyers on both sides were working toward a single objective.
UPDATE (5/19): This article has been updated with a new statement from Keith Davidson.