On Monday, BuzzFeed News published leaked documents the FBI pieced together from the shredder of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer who is currently under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel and the Southern District of New York. How BuzzFeed obtained the documents is unclear, but what is clear is that they didn’t live up to the hype.
BuzzFeed opens by noting that when the pieced-together shredded documents were first announced by the Department of Justice, “critics, legal experts, and journalists feverishly speculated about what they might contain.” Most vocal among them was Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti, who predicted that the shredded documents could be a “huge problem” for Cohen and company.
But it turns out that the pieced-together documents are just a bunch of documents that prosecutors already had. Among them are handwritten notes about a taxi business, “rambling letters” that appear to be unconnected to the investigation, and insurance papers. Some are almost incomprehensible, one containing a “jumble of numbers, letters, and bar codes,” while another “appears to be part of an envelope.” The ones that do make some sense don’t appear to be game-changing.
Apart from letters from a writer, Karen Wickman, who says she was harassed and blackmailed by Trump back in the ’80s and has posted the letters on her website, Letters to Celebrities, and sent them to several federal and state entities, BuzzFeed found only one document worth highlighting, and it contains information that’s already been reported:
The clearest page documents a payment that has already been reported: a $62,500 wire transfer from March into a First Republic Bank account controlled by Cohen. This would fit with a series of payments reportedly from the Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy. He reportedly paid Cohen to negotiate a nondisclosure agreement with a former Playboy model with whom Broidy was romantically involved. A federal law enforcement source told BuzzFeed News that prosecutors already possessed some of the records dealing with Cohen’s financial transactions.
The FBI has reportedly obtained some 4 million documents related to the Cohen case. According to BuzzFeed’s findings, the shredded documents appear to have been redundant.
In January 2017, BuzzFeed famously published the “unverified, salacious” Steele dossier that was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, relied on Russian sources, and contains several outlandish claims, including the infamous “golden showers” Russian prostitute allegation. After nearly two years, the claims in the document remain unverified.
Cohen filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the dossier despite proof that one of the claims in the document, that he went to Prague in the summer of 2016 to meet with Russian agents, was false, but eventually dropped the suit.