Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden on Thursday sent a letter to Treasury Department Inspector General Eric M. Thorson, requesting information about a series of suspicious activity reports (SARs) on longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen, which have allegedly gone missing.
The move suggests Wyden may be preparing to launch a formal probe into the matter.
Reports last week showed that Cohen was paid millions of dollars through a shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, by several companies with regulatory matters before the administration in the days after Trump was first elected. Several of those companies — including AT&T and pharmaceutical company Novartis — have since defended those payments, claiming they were for consulting on policy matters.
However, Cohen’s shell company has triggered several SARs, which banks are required to file to the federal government if they suspect potential illegal activity like money laundering.
Furthermore, according to a report by investigative reporter Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, published Wednesday, at least two SARs — filed by First Republic Bank and detailing more than $3 million in payments to Cohen from various businesses with regulatory matters before the administration — are no longer listed in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database.
The report cites an anonymous official who says they spoke to Farrow because they were worried the information about Cohen’s potentially suspicious financial activity would be withheld from law enforcement.
On Thursday, Wyden demanded more information about the missing SARs, asking Treasury Inspector Thorson to examine the database and ensure its integrity.
“On May 16, The New Yorker reported that SARs related to Michael Cohen’s accounts had been removed from the normally accessible SARs database,” Wyden wrote. “According to a number of individuals with knowledge of the database cited in this report…removal or sequestration of SARs is highly unusual if not unprecedented.”
Wyden requested Thorson “examine the way in which SARs related to [Cohen’s] accounts…were managed” and asked the inspector general to examine whether FinCEN was functioning in adherence to established Treasury policies.
The Oregon senator also requested that Thorson determine whether further congressional action was needed, suggesting a possible investigation into the matter.
On Thursday afternoon, Rich Delmar, counsel to the Treasury inspector general, said that the department would consider Wyden’s requests and decide if a probe was necessary.
“We have received Senator Wyden’s request that we look into how FinCEN manages the SAR database, and are developing our plan to carry out the request,” Delmar told The Hill, in a statement.
Wyden also reached out to FinCEN Director Ken Blanco Thursday, requesting copies of SARs related to “any payments made to Cohen,” as well as copies of all “policies and guidelines related to the management of the SARs database.” The senator requested to know whether any SARs had been removed or sequestered from within the database, and if so, “an explanation of why this was done and by whom.”
Blanco has until May 31 to respond to the request.
The idea that Cohen was receiving payments through his shell company — which was also used to pay off at least one woman who claims she had an affair with Trump — from businesses that could have received valuable sway over policy decisions in the Trump administration in return has raised alarm among a number of lawmakers and watchdog groups. Cohen has also been criticized for effectively pitching himself as a direct channel to the presidency.
“I don’t know who’s been representing you, but you should fire them all. I’m the guy you should hire. I’m closest to the President. I’m his personal lawyer,” one GOP strategist reportedly recounted Cohen as saying, according to CNN.
The White House, however, has largely played off concerns about such conflicts, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referring reporters to the president’s outside counsel.
“We’re not engaging in this process at all,” she said on May 9.
On Friday last week, Sanders once again dodged questions about the payments, arguing instead that the administration’s opposition to AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner proved the president could not be bought.
“I think this further proves that the president is not going to be influenced by special interests,” she said. “This is actually the definition of draining the swamp, something the president talked about repeatedly during the campaign.”
Vice President Mike Pence has also downplayed the significance of the scandal, saying in an interview with NBC’s Andrew Mitchell on May 10 that the alleged “pay for play” scandal was “a private matter.”