It was only weeks ago when the name Michael Avenatti wouldn’t ring a bell, but after a three-week talk show tour, Stormy Daniels has shown why Donald Trump should be nervous. This is a lawyer who knows how to fight like the president.
So much so that Trump has been out of the loop for five days straight which is very different for him. He’s also given Daniels the same treatment as he has with Vladimir Putin in never having a bad thing to say about her. Or a bad word about Avenatti.
This has led some pundits like Morning Joe’s Scarborough to think he’s overplaying his hand.
But Michael Avenatti wants to be clear on one thing: He does not bluff. Scarborough even had to admit on Thursday; this is one lawyer who knows how to tangle with Trump. “He seems to have bested the president at his own game,” the Morning Joe host said.
A year ago, the attorney was in the closing days of a jury trial, facing off against a company he had accused of making faulty surgical gowns. When the other side questioned his plans to bring a plant manager in from Honduras to testify, Avenatti hopped on a plane to Central America to persuade the man to come to Los Angeles and take the stand.
“We did our homework. We did what we needed to do. We put him on on a Friday afternoon. And it was devastating to the defense,” said Avenatti, who went on to win a $454 million jury judgment.
A take-no-prisoners litigator armed with sharp suits and a seemingly endless supply of trash talk, Avenatti is now using his signature mix of force and flash to go after President Donald Trump on behalf of porn actress Stormy Daniels. With a Trump-style media blitz, Avenatti has pursued the president relentlessly, taunting him in interviews, baiting him with tweets and putting him on notice with a motion to place him under oath and depose him.
Daring Trump to underestimate him, Avenatti, 47, says this case is a natural fit for a “dragon slayer” who has spent his career trying to help Davids fight Goliaths.
So far, the say-anything president has been conspicuously quiet on Daniels, though the White House says he denies her claims. Daniels made her case in a widely viewed interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, saying that she had sex with the married Trump once in 2006 and that a man threatened her with physical harm in 2011 if she went public with her story. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 days before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement she is seeking to invalidate.
Avenatti said on NBC that there was “no question” Trump knew about the agreement. On Daniels’ behalf, he offered to return the $130,000. He teased that Daniels had been “physically threatened.” He tweeted a 2011 photo of her strapped to a chair taking a polygraph test about Trump.
He has appeared more than once on CNN alongside Cohen’s lawyer, David Schwartz. The two got into a heated spat this week in which Avenatti bombarded his sparring partner with chants of “Thug! Thug! Thug!”
Avenatti will not detail exactly how he first connected with Daniels, but he insists there are no secret financial interests paying him or Daniels.
“There are no angel backers, there are no political backers, there are no PAC backers, there are no political operative backers, there are no politician backers, there are no special interest backers,” said Avenatti, adding that the only support for the case is coming from a crowdsourcing website that has raised about $300,000.
Those who know Avenatti are not surprised to see him taking on this fight.
“Michael was chomping at the bit to get involved in litigation from the first day he walked into law school,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who taught Avenatti. “He thrives on the pressures that come with litigation.”
Past cases have pitted Avenatti against Hollywood stars, corporations, even the National Football League.
William Cornwell, an attorney in Boca Raton, Florida, called him “one of the most talented trial attorneys I’ve ever had the experience of trying a case against.”
Outside the courtroom, Avenatti has boundless energy for any number of high-stakes interests. In his free time, he turns to fast cars, participating in more than 30 professional sports car races in the United States and Europe since 2010. Several years ago, he bought a Seattle coffee shop chain in a deal that saw him partnering with — and then sparring with — actor Patrick Dempsey. Avenatti said he sold his own share of the troubled chain and now just offers legal assistance.
He survives on four or five hours of sleep a night, throws around phrases like “Life is not a dress rehearsal” and often ends his tweets with “#basta” — enough.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania — which also counts Trump as an alumnus — and GWU law school, Avenatti said his drive to take on the powerful dates to his teenage years when he saw his father unexpectedly lose his job, something he said was “devastating” to his family.
As Avenatti’s profile has grown, Trump’s followers on Twitter have taken notice and tried to establish that Avenatti is a Democratic operative. His own website mentions that he worked for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel before Emanuel worked for the Clinton and Obama administrations. Avenatti says he was an investigator of political campaigns and corporations around the mid-1990s and hasn’t communicated with Emanuel since 2007.
A review of federal records shows that Avenatti has not made individual political donations since 2007. From 2003 to 2007, he gave $5,750 to an assortment of California and national Democratic Party candidates, including the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, John Edwards, and Dick Gephardt.
Avenatti denies that the Daniels case has anything to do with politics and says he even supports some things Trump has done as president, including deregulation and tax cuts.
Still, he says he and Trump are not the same kind of guy.
“I’m not a guy that was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and a real estate portfolio in Manhattan,” he said. “I’m a street fighter with an Ivy League degree.”
UPDATE on Trump – Daniels Case:
Stormy Daniels has hit a procedural roadblock in her case alleging a $130K deal with Donald Trump is void.
A day after her attorney, Michael Avenatti, demanded that Trump submit to a deposition to clear up his participation in the “hush agreement,” a California federal judge has rejected the bid.
“While [Essential Consultants] and Mr. Trump have stated their intention to file a petition to compel arbitration, they have not yet done so,” writes U.S. District Court S. James Otero. “If such a petition were filed, a number of the questions raised in Plaintiff’s Motion may be answered in the petition, thus limited the need for discovery on these issues. If such a petition is never filed, Plaintiff’s Motion is moot. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion is premature and must be denied.”
Daniels is alleging in her lawsuit that despite being paid, the agreement to say nothing about the alleged affair is void because Trump never signed the deal and it violates public policy by suppressing speech on a matter of public concern. The case has put Trump is a difficult position — not only because of the allegation of an extramarital affair, but also because it raises the issue of whether he participated in something that could be deemed a violation of campaign finance laws.
Avenatti argued discovery was needed at this early juncture “concerning whether there was a lawful purpose to the Agreement” and “whether a contract was formed,” but Otero clearly prefers that after the defendants removed the case to federal court, they file the next papers. Although the defendants have suggested they will be moving to compel arbitration and have threatened Daniels with breaching contract by making public statements about Trump, the early posture of the case presents more of a barrier than any constitutional objection as the Supreme Court has determined that presidents must submit to discovery in civil cases while in office.
Otero concludes, “Given that Plaintiff has failed to follow certain of the Court’s procedural requirements that would trigger a responsive pleading deadline for the defendants, and that such a responsive pleading my answer a number of questions raised by Plaintiff’s Motion, the Court declines to prematurely address these issues.”