Michael Avenatti’s final turn as a trial lawyer is underway, as he defends himself from federal criminal charges. The formerly successful civil lawyer turned would-be Trump slayer is fighting for his life in a Manhattan courtroom against charges that he stole from Stormy Daniels. The money in question was from her book deal, in which she wrote about an alleged affair with Donald J. Trump that took place a decade before he ran for the Oval Office – an event the 45th president denies ever happened.
Prosecutors claim Avenatti embezzled nearly $300,000 of proceeds in part by forging Daniels’ signature on instructions to Macmillan Publishers about where to send the funds. Daniels claims Avenatti never informed her about the account.
He Said, She Said…
The issue at trial is relatively simple; did Avenatti lie, cheat, and steal the money Stormy Daniels was paid by her publishers and a legal defense fund he set up in her name? Daniels says yes, he did. Avenatti’s defense, which has been revealed only through cross-examination so far, is that he spent the money on expenses for Daniels, including and especially around-the-clock security. Mr. Avenatti implied he used the money for representing her in various lawsuits around the country, including hers against Donald Trump.
That is how they met. Each used the other as a catapult to fame in opposition to Trump. They agreed to an attorney-client relationship over lunch at the Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria in February 2018. Avenatti used the case to become the legacy media’s favorite foil to President Trump. By May of that year, he would make well over 100 appearances on CNN and MSNBC alone.
According to Matthew Russell Lee, who live-tweeted the trial proceedings for InnerCityPress.com, Daniels recounted their agreement as follows:
“I said I didn’t have much money. He said we could work it out. A day later, we met for lunch in LA. He said it would be $100, and he’d set up a legal defense fund and take money from winnings again [sic] Donald Trump.”
Hell hath no fury
Daniels has no love lost for the former golden child of never-Trumpers. She admitted to the court under direct examination from prosecuting attorney Robert Sobelman that she had publicly wished Avenatti would be “raped in prison.” Mr. Avenatti barely got a chance to cross-examine the government’s star witness and alleged victim of his crimes before Judge Jesse Furman, an Obama appointee, ended the proceedings for the day.
Avenatti did, however, manage to elicit testimony designed to make Daniels seem less than credible. She claimed to be able to speak with the dead, look through walls, and communicate with a “haunted doll.” Ms. Daniels has tried to gain an audience with a self-funded TV project called “Spooky Babes,” where she explores hauntings and the supernatural.
He told the judge he expected to cross-examine Stormy Daniels for 6 hours. Perhaps he wants to relish his last hurrah as a courtroom lawyer – it was just this past week that he fired his federal public defender and took over his own defense. On the other hand, Avenatti graduated first in his class in law school and made a storied career with multiple awards, each in the dozens of millions. Don’t count him out just yet. Daniels returns to the stand to face Avenatti’s questions at 9 a.m. on Friday.
Michael Avenatti was convicted of extorting the Nike company in 2020 by threatening to harm its stock price by making damaging charges against the company. He has yet to start serving his 30-month prison sentence in that case.
~ Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.