Federal prosecutors in San Francisco on Thursday charged an employee of the Internal Revenue Service with illegally leaking banking records connected to Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer.
Prosecutors said that in his role working for the investigative unit of the I.R.S., John C. Fry, an employee of the agency since 2008, had access “to various law enforcement databases” and had used them to search for records related to Mr. Cohen multiple times. He then gave the information to Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, who has claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to the prosecutors.
Mr. Avenatti was not identified in the complaint filed by prosecutors, which only says Mr. Fry gave the information to an attorney “based in Newport Beach, Calif.,” in May, and that the lawyer in question posted on Twitter the “confidential banking information related to the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s company.”
One of the reports that Mr. Fry downloaded listed payments to a bank account affiliated with Mr. Cohen, including $500,000 from a company connected to a Russian oligarch who donated money to Mr. Trump’s inauguration fund, according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors.
Mr. Avenatti then connected Mr. Fry to an investigative reporter, who also was not identified but was Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker magazine.
A spokeswoman for The New Yorker declined to comment.
Mr. Avenatti referred to tweets he posted on the topic: “Neither I nor R. Farrow did anything wrong or illegal with the financial info relating to Cohen’s crimes,” he posted on Twitter on Thursday. “And if we did (we didn’t), then every reporter in America would be jailed and unable to do their job.”
Mr. Cohen made a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Clifford in October 2016, with the aim of keeping her quiet during Mr. Trump’s campaign for president. When the leak took place, Mr. Avenatti and Mr. Cohen were in a legal fight after Ms. Clifford began speaking publicly. Mr. Cohen had acknowledged to The Times that he was the one who paid her during the campaign.
Mr. Fry was released on $50,000 bond. He faces a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine.
The charges came just days before Mr. Cohen is scheduled to appear before three congressional committees to give testimony.