John Fry, an IRS agent, will be arraigned next month after the Justice Department brought charges Thursday for leaking confidential documents related to Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former attorney.
The department announced that Fry will be charged for disclosing suspicious activity reports without authorization.
Suspicious activity reports are filed by banks when they come across financial activity that they believe may be tied to criminal acts. Investigators within the federal government can then pursue these leads.
In May 2018, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, who had been suing the president and Cohen, dropped a bombshell when he published some of Cohen’s financial records. They showed he had received highly dubious payments from major companies made to a private shell company after Trump’s election. It wasn’t clear whether the records were evidence of any criminal acts, though it did suggest Cohen was involved in morally dubious influence-peddling.
But at the time, many observers noted that the records appeared to come from SARs. Leaking these records, they noted, would almost certainly constitute a crime.
The Justice Department now believes Fry committed the crime. And according to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court of Northern California, Fry admitted to giving the documents to Avenatti. Avenatti also reportedly gave these documents to Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker, referred to as “Reporter-1,” and Fry admitted to confirming the authenticity of the documents to Farrow, according to the complaint.
At the time Farrow’s story broke, he reported that a law enforcement official believed the SARs had been illicitly removed from the records.
“[The] official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database,” Farrow reported. “The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.”
According to the indictment, Fry was simply mistaken about this. It says that the SARs had been restricted, and that had Fry wanted to view them, he would have had to contact the appropriate authorities within the department and explain why he needed to see the files.
Avenatti is not charged and does not appear to be implicated in the document, and he defended his role to NBC News.
“I have done nothing wrong and did not violate any law whatsoever, just like reporters don’t violate the law when they do their jobs,” he said.