For more than a year, BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold had been breaking stories based on leaked Treasury Department records.
The records, the unauthorized disclosure of which is a felony, had a common theme. They were the financial records of people associated with President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, many of them targets of the Robert Mueller special-counsel investigation—Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, and others.
Federal government agencies aren't supposed to play political favorites. Using official powers and sensitive records to go after political targets by selectively leaking private information to the media is a criminal act. But that's exactly what happened.
While all this obvious leaking was going on from inside the Treasury Department for the past year, there was much speculation as to who the leakers were and what, if any, efforts were being made to identify and prosecute them.
Described as a "senior adviser" in the Treasury's FinCEN branch, Natalie Edwards was charged by the SDNY with unauthorized disclosure of SARs and with conspiracy to do the same.
A key part of the criminal complaint filed against Edwards says:
"Beginning in approximately October 2017, and lasting until the present, EDWARDS unlawfully disclosed numerous SARs to a reporter ('Reporter-1'), the substance of which were published over the course of approximately 12 articles by a news organization for which Reporter-1 wrote ('News Organization-1'). The illegally disclosed SARs pertained to, among other things, Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, the Russian Embassy, Mariia Butina, and Prevezon Alexander."
Media FrenzyReading the articles in Leopold's BuzzFeed archives shows he was looking to push a narrative that the Trump–Russia collusion story is real. Leopold was using Edwards to find documents he could use to push the theme that Trump and his close associates were all taking bribes from the Russians.
If there had ever been any evidence discovered that proved Trump and his key people were taking money from Russian sources, it would have leaked long ago. Leopold wouldn't be having to have Edwards pass him SARs from the Treasury to prove it; Mueller and his team would have found it.
There doesn't even need to be a real SAR filed by a bank for a media feeding frenzy to begin, with reporters calling for the target to be investigated, and then, for politicized officials inside the government to launch the investigation that the media is clamoring for.
Pointing the FingerLooking through archives of Leopold's articles at BuzzFeed, something stands out.
Ponder this: Leopold knows who the real leaker is. He knows the person is inside the FinCEN branch of the Treasury. And yet, he's publishing a news report in which he's helping anonymous FinCEN employees point the finger of suspicion for these leaks at the OIA.
It appears that Leopold deliberately helped cast suspicion on innocent people in the OIA to get them investigated for the criminal leaking his own sources inside the FinCEN were doing.
And then there's this issue that crops up in the Edwards complaint: Several times, Leopold appears to be asking her to make searches of the Treasury's database for the financial records of people he wants to write about.
This could be a legal problem for Leopold, since he wouldn't be just the passive recipient of a leaker's documents, but giving instruction to target certain people: That could make him a co-conspirator.
There undoubtedly will be more developments soon, as everybody in Washington suddenly is coming to the realization that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was dead serious last year when he warned the leakers to stop.
They didn't listen, and now, there's going to be hell to pay.