May 16, 2018, 6:07 AM ET

Michael Avenatti casts himself as anti-Trump avenger

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Michael Avenatti, the telegenic attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, has demonstrated an uncanny knack for commanding national media attention, first making headlines in early March when he filed a lawsuit against President Trump and his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate a once-secret $130,000 non-disclosure deal Daniels signed just days before the presidential election, attracted immediate, widespread attention.

In the two months since, Avenatti has become a near-daily fixture of cable news programs, advocating for Daniels - whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford - but also making a series of public disclosures about much broader issues in the ongoing investigations of Cohen in New York and by the Office of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

“I think Mr. Avenatti has gotten past the point at which he is only talking about issues that are related to his client,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Illinois. “Now he's become kind of a broader spokesperson on issues related to Michael Cohen or Donald Trump. And that's an unusual situation for a lawyer to be in.”

Last week Avenatti disclosed a summary of Cohen’s confidential banking records, He followed that up with a cryptic tweet on Sunday showing photos of Cohen stepping off elevators in the Trump Tower lobby during the presidential transition, escorting a high-ranking functionary of the government of Qatar.

PHOTO: Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) and Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, exit the courthouse, April 16, 2018 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) and Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, exit the courthouse, April 16, 2018 in New York City.

“Unless I’m missing something, Cohen dealing with the Qataris isn't relevant to whether or not he paid hush money to Stormy Daniels,” said Paul Rosenzweig , a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning R Street Institute and a former Whitewater investigator. “It seems more like [Avenatti] is running a private effort to kind of spread on the public record some of what he thinks might be in the Mueller investigation.”

Avenatti’s disclosure of the banking records, which detailed large corporate payments to Cohen for consulting deals that began shortly after Trump entered the White House, did lead to revelations that Mueller had been probing Cohen’s business dealings for several months. It also prompted Cohen’s attorneys to point out some errors in the records. And, they asked a federal judge to require Avenatti to explain how he acquired information that the lawyers argued he had “no lawful basis to possess.”

The inspector general of the Treasury Department is now investigating possible leaks of Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, from Cohen’s financial institutions.

“Suspicious activity reports are confidential. They're not allowed to be leaked,” said Michael Volkov, a white-collar defense lawyer who spent seventeen years as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.

Volkov notes that the disclosure of the records came after Avenatti had spent weeks publicly cajoling the Treasury Department to release the reports, employing the Twitter hashtag, “#ReleaseTheSARs.”

“He's a PR show and he's trying to serve as a focal point for people to deliver information to,” Volkov said. “He's marketing, ‘Please bring the information on this stuff.’ And he's good at it. Look, give the guy credit, he's good at it. He doesn't have an army of lawyers behind him.”

Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. Attorney in Miami, puts it more bluntly: "I think he's the go-to guy for anyone that wants to keep their fingerprints off of information about Michael Cohen."

"I don't recall this effective a media campaign with finite factual elements," Coffey said. "Most things connected to President Trump get a multiplier with respect to the media, but we're still talking about a relatively discrete transaction for a hundred-thirty-thousand dollars with a non-disclosure agreement, which is certainly common enough. And yet from those finite factual elements, we've had a downpour that continues for weeks, for months, and the downpour keeps falling."

Avenatti has said he obtained his information legally, but he's declined to reveal the sources. He has defended his release of the records as protected by the First Amendment. And he’s promised that there’s more to come, while boldly predicting that Trump won't complete his term in the White House.

"I’m not going to disclose how we're getting the documents," Avenatti told ABC News recently. "We’ve only scratched the surface, though. We've got a lot of evidence and a lot of information that are coming to light in the coming days weeks and months."

Last month, a federal judge in California put Daniels’ lawsuit against Trump and Cohen on hold. Cohen sought the delay of the civil case to protect his rights during the criminal investigation ongoing in New York.

Cohen has not been charged with any crimes and -- through his attorneys -- he has denied any wrongdoing.

Yet in the absence of courtroom developments, Avenatti has still managed to create opportunities to keep his client's case in the news, while repeatedly questioning the integrity and truthfulness of the President and Cohen, his longtime fixer.

"Avenatti's client's interests are to show in court and to the public that Cohen and Trump cannot be trusted and should not be believed when they call her a liar," said Mimi Rocah, a long-time federal prosecutor in Manhattan, now a Criminal Justice Fellow at Pace Law School. "So, to that extent, I think he is representing her interests, albeit in a very non-traditional way."

Still, Rocah and other legal observers see risks in Avenatti's ever-expanding offensive against Cohen and Trump.

"He has made himself, in essence, a public figure who is asking the public to trust him by being the original source of some of the information that he has put out there," Rocah said. "The danger of this, in my view, is that even Avenatti has only bits and pieces of the whole story at his disposal right now. Prosecutors and investigators who have subpoena power and other powerful legal methods of investigation at their disposal are more likely to get all the facts and make sense of them and get at the truth whatever that is."

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  • Pat Baxter

    Wouldn't Mr. Avenatti's opponent in 2020 be Pence (or other Trumpican)? Seems I recall Mr. Avenatti suggesting that Trump will be out of the picture long before 2020.

  • John Springer

    He has a ton of issues, tax liens 5 millions, investigation by California bar, and his wife saying he is ignoring their divorce proceedings and she wants out.

  • DEM-Castballot

    Michael Avenatti..The one guy that anti-Trump can support.The only guy that will tell Trump he's a liar.The only guy that will tell the truth and last but not least,the only guy that will bring down the orange clown if Mueller doesn't.

  • Riddler

    He's such a good lawyer his client, Stormy, will end up paying back Trump for violating the NDA. She'll sue Michael who, and he'll get disbarred.

  • AlexaGuyer

    Um, Trump could have had the opportunity to be on the networks to be interviewed too, except that Avenatti has the guts to answer questions from the press without sounding like a moron, Trump does not.

  • Marc

    They left out the part about Avenatti being investigated by the California Bar Association and may be disbarred and face prosecution for tax evasion. I'm sure this was accidentally omitted. I'm sure other liberal gossip rags will skip this as well.

  • Marie4933X6

    Avenatti might be a showboat, but he is a very clever one. This is very unlike all the parasites that surround Trump, all showboats as stupid as a tree stump in the middle of a Louisiana bayou.

  • Stopbanningme

    Thank goodness, a new article! I thought I was going to have to go five whole minutes without hearing from this guy.

  • rightened

    I want Avenetti to bring that whole dirty business about money laundering down in Palm Beach to life.

    How else does one explain Trump buying a mansion for $41M, selling it (during a real estate crisis in 2007 when everyone else is LOSING money) to a Russian Oligarch (Dmitry Rybolovlev) for $90M, and yet the sale ACTUALLY occurred via a "mysterious unnamed owner" who set up a one-time LLC in Palm Beach (hmmm, who do we know that does that?). Then it turns out that Rybolovlev not ONCE visited the property, destroyed the mansion (wasn't that the "selling point, all those renovations to "up" the property value?), and sold the land in THREE parcels for a mere $37M. That's either a big mistake and a hard real estate hit from a financial idiot (which Rybolovlev isn't, or he wouldn't be an oligarch), or the actions of a Russian in league with an ally hiding behind that LLC (who then had the ownership transferred to a trust)... and what easier way to go about money-laundering than for the current owner of a property to be in on it?

  • John Springer

    He is an attorney with 5 million in IRS liens and lavish lifestyle. Self aggrandizing , he just found a golden goose.

  • Nancy Mortenthal

    He forgot to wear his cape.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Now that Trump has officially revealed financial records showing he paid Cohen back for the hush money payment, everything Avenatti has revealed has been proven to be true.

    I wonder how he feels about exposing another of Trump's lies.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    The people who were cheering every thing single thing that came from WikiLeaks suddenly seem to have lost their admiration for leaks. I guess it sort of falls into the category of the Bible saying those who live by the sword will die by the sword. But I doubt Trumpers will learn anything from this lesson.

  • Dale Stein

    Avenatti for PRESIDENT!!!!

  • Dale Stein

    Avenatti is the greatest! Love this guy!!!!

  • poshsealion

    The jig is up on Avenatti. The information he is leaking now really does nothing to further his legal cases for Stormy Daniels, so if he is barely working in a capacity as her lawyer anymore, who is paying him for all the billable hours? And don't tell me it's from crowdfunding. He declared that his living expenses are 40K alone in his divorce papers, and since he seems to be working on this exclusively, how is he making a living? He needs to drop his charade and "come clean" (as he likes to say) on his real objective in all of this and disclose who is funding him.

  • Pedro

    Give him the role, bright, competent, good looking..

  • sixstrings

    i wonder how long it will be before some ugly revelations come out about Mr. Avenatti.