“It’s just been crazy,” says Michael Avenatti.
Over the past week, Stormy Daniels’ sound bite-dropping lawyer has made dozens of appearances on cable news—and one on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert—responding to the various developments in their case against President Donald Trump and his fixer Michael Cohen.
The media escalation began on Wednesday, when Rudy Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team for all of two weeks, made an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program. There Giuliani, appearing slightly manic, claimed that Cohen “funneled” the $130,000 hush payment to Stormy Daniels “through a law firm” and that “the president repaid it.” He further divulged that Cohen was reimbursed for the funds via a $35,000 monthly retainer. Giuliani’s assertions ran contrary to statements made by both Trump and Cohen alleging that the president was unaware of the payoff to Daniels in the final weeks of the election—one that some legal experts argue qualifies as an illegal campaign contribution.
But Avenatti believes that Giuliani’s Hannity appearance was nothing if not calculated. “It absolutely was,” he tells me. “I think this is all part of a strategy that was arrived at and that has now backfired on Mr. Giuliani and the president. His behavior may have been erratic, but that does not mean that it wasn’t purposeful, the words that came out of his mouth.”
In the days since, President Trump has publicly disputed Giuliani’s comments, saying that his pal needs to “get his facts straight” and was “still learning the subject matter.” Giuliani, meanwhile, amended his stance, telling NBC News that Trump was only recently made “aware of paperwork” that revealed the hush-money reimbursements, and when he did the president expressed surprise and said, “Oh my goodness, I guess that’s what it was for.” (The New York Times reported that Trump knew about the payment to Daniels “months before he denied it.”)
“These guys are making this up as they go along,” Avenatti says. “They continue to contradict themselves and engage in lie after lie about what happened here. And this just further illustrates the need for us to have sworn testimony on these subjects.”
He adds, “Using the word ‘funnel’ when describing a transaction usually does not denote that it was above board.”
For those struggling to keep up, here’s a brief recap: Daniels, a prominent adult film star, has maintained that she and Trump had an affair in 2006, mere months after Melania gave birth to their son, Barron. In 2011, after she gave a detailed interview to In Touch magazine about the purported extramarital tryst, Daniels alleges that a man approached her in a Las Vegas parking lot, warning her to “leave Trump alone” and threatening her life. (Daniels has since released a sketch of the suspect.) During the final months of the presidential election, Daniels was in talks with numerous reporters—including yours truly—about coming forward with her Trump story, only to instead opt for a $130,000 payout from Michael Cohen, replete with an NDA. Daniels has since sued both Cohen and Trump, arguing that they broke the terms of the NDA when they denied that the affair took place.
Last month, Cohen’s office was raided by the feds, who seized records—including cell phones, emails, and tax and business documents—related to the $130,000 Daniels payment. The Justice Department subsequently declared that Cohen has been “under criminal investigation” for months.
Avenatti says that he sees a certain degree of irony in Giuliani, a man who conducted a scandalous affair while mayor of New York City and tried to cover its financial tracks, serving as Trump’s cable-news defender in the Daniels case.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” he says. “If you submitted this in a script to Hollywood, no one would buy it because they’d say it would be too unbelievable.”
Late Thursday night, Avenatti appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, where he intimated that the hush payment was related to the election. “There were extensive communications between Michael Cohen and [Daniels’ previous lawyer] Keith Davidson in October of 2016 relating to the timing of this payment and the need for the payment to be made prior to the election,” Avenatti said. “Extensive communications relating to the need for the payment to be made, when it was made, and as it related to potential influence on the election.”
When I ask if he can prove this—or has any further proof that the payment to Daniels had to do with the election—Avenatti refers me to the O’Donnell quote, saying, “I’m not going to say anything beyond what I said to Lawrence O’Donnell right now.”
But he does tease that there will be some new wrinkles coming soon.
“There’s certainly additional evidence coming down the pike. I can’t give you any sense of the timing right now, but it’s a very dynamic situation,” he says.
Avenatti pauses. “With each passing day, Stormy is more and more vindicated.”