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.
In a series of scoops, Leopold revealed information that could only have come from confidential government records, such as suspicious activity reports (SARs) that are filed by financial institutions about an activity that appears to be illegal or even questionable. SARs are then sent from the bank or financial institution to the Treasury Department, which reviews them and makes a decision whether to investigate further. Treasury can either do its own investigation or hand the case off to the Department of Justice.
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.
Now, we know the answer. Once again, without any leaks in advance, the “silent professionals” have struck again.
On Oct. 17, the Southern District of New York (SDNY) announced it had arrested and charged a senior official inside the Treasury Department who worked in the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network branch of the agency, often referred to as FinCEN.
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.”
There is little doubt at this point that “Reporter-1” is Jason Leopold and that the “news organization” is BuzzFeed.
Reading 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.
I know this, because that’s exactly what happened to Kushner in January. Media suddenly began claiming to have anonymous sources telling them that Deutsche Bank had filed an SAR on Kushner’s financial activity with them.
The bank denied the reports and threatened legal action against those publicizing this claim. No real SAR ever turned up, but in March, New York’s banking regulator demanded to see Kushner’s financial information with Deutsche Bank anyway.
Pointing the Finger
Looking through archives of Leopold’s articles at BuzzFeed, something stands out.
In October of last year, Leopold filed the article “US Intelligence Unit Accused of Illegally Spying on Americans’ Financial Records,” in which anonymous FinCEN sources cast suspicion for the criminal leaking of Trump associates’ financial records directly at another office inside the Treasury: the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA).
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.
Was Edwards one of these anonymous FinCEN people accusing the OIA of criminal acts? Was one of them her co-conspirator, who is mentioned in the complaint, but not identified?
The anonymous accusations led to an investigation of the Treasury’s OIA. Leopold reported on the conclusion of the investigation last May.
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.
Brian Cates is a political pundit and writer based in South Texas and the author of “Nobody Asked For My Opinion … But Here It Is Anyway!” He can be reached on Twitter @drawandstrike.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.