The Treasury Department inspector general's office has opened up an investigation into whether confidential banking documents for Essential Consultants LLC, Michael Cohen's shell company, were leaked, spokesman Rich Delmar said Wednesday. On Tuesday, Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, released a seven-page dossier listing payments to Essential Consultants from several companies, including the U.S. subsidiary of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg's Renova Group, AT&T, Novartis, and Korea Aerospace Group.
The New York Times confirmed the gist of Avenatti's research, and the companies acknowledged they that had paid Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, purportedly for consulting advice on health care, real estate, and "insights" into the Trump White House. Delmar said Inspector General Eric Thorson's investigation, which will look for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, was sparked by the New York Times report. On Wednesday, Cohen's legal team contested some of Avenatti's findings and said it appears Avenatti has access to Cohen's bank records, and Cohen "has no reason to believe that Avenatti is in lawful possession of those records."
Experts say Avenatti's language suggests he had access to confidential Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) that banks file when they see an unusual or suspicious transaction. "This has the appearance of a leak," former Treasury deputy general counsel Daniel Stipano told The Washington Post. He said hundreds or thousands of law enforcement and government officials have access to a database of SARs.
On MSNBC Wednesday night, Avenatti wouldn't tell Rachel Maddow where he got his information, but he argued that the Treasury Department should just release the three SARs filed on Essential Consultants. "Normally SARs are confidential, and the reason why they're confidential is because you don't want to tip off the target of the SAR," he said, but when The Wall Street Journal spilled the beans in March, "Michael Cohen became aware that at least one SAR had been filed." Watch below. Peter Weber