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IRS employee charged with leaking suspicious financial transactions to prominent lawyer and the media

February 27, 2019

An IRS employee, John Fry of San Francisco, was charged by the Department of Justice with “unlawful disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports” involving overseas financial transactions of President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to a prominent attorney and at least one reporter.

Fry is at least the sixth government employee charged by the Trump administration in connection with giving information to news organizations. The DOJ has indicated they have dozens more leak investigations active, and the Trump DOJ is on pace to prosecute more sources of journalists than any other administration before it.

According to the criminal complaint unsealed on Feb. 21, DOJ has accused Fry of searching for Cohen’s name and company in two government financial databases, downloading “suspicious activity reports,” or SARs, and sending information he found to attorney Michael Avenatti, who has represented adult entertainer Stormy Daniels in her accusations against President Trump, as well as an unidentified reporter at the New Yorker.

In May 2018, the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow published an investigation into Cohen’s suspicious overseas financial transactions that may have related to 2016 election activities, titled “Missing Files Motivated Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records.” The title and quotes from the article match those cited in the complaint.

In the article, an unidentified source is quoted by Farrow justifying why it was important that the public know about Cohen’s suspicious financial transactions: “‘I have never seen something pulled off the system… . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.’ The official added, ‘That’s why I came forward.’”

The DOJ claims it obtained WhatsApp messages between Fry and the unidentified reporter, assumed to be Farrow. It is unclear how the DOJ obtained these messages, or whether the DOJ has attempted to access communications records directly from Farrow or any other reporters potentially connected to this case.

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Fry was charged on Feb. 4th, but the criminal complaint was not unsealed until this week. According to the Washington Post, Fry’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Freedom of the Press Foundation has previously stated that leak investigations threaten the ability of journalists to speak with sources about information in the public interest. We will update this incident as it unfolds.

— The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].

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