Michael Avenatti sued Donald Trump for defaming Stormy Daniels against her wishes, Daniels told The Daily Beast in a statement on Wednesday.
Avenatti also started a new fundraising site to raise money for her legal defense fund without telling her, Daniels said. She said she is not sure whether or not she will keep Avenatti on as her lawyer.
Here is her full statement, provided to The Daily Beast:
“For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests. Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter.
“I haven’t decided yet what to do about legal representation moving forward. Michael has been a great advocate in many ways. I’m tremendously grateful to him for aggressively representing me in my fight to regain my voice. But in other ways Michael has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show to a client. He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said. I’m deeply grateful to my supporters and they deserve to know their money is being spent responsibly. I don’t want to hurt Michael, but it’s time to set the record straight. The truth has always been my greatest ally.
“My goal is the same as it has always been—to stand up for myself and take back my voice after being bullied and intimidated by President Trump and his minions. One way or another I’m going to continue in that fight, and I want everyone who has stood by me to know how profoundly grateful I am for their support.”
The Daily Beast shared this statement with Avenatti. He provided the following statement:
“I am and have always been Stormy’s biggest champion. I have personally sacrificed an enormous amount of money, time and energy toward assisting her because I believe in her. I have always been an open book with Stormy as to all aspects of her cases and she knows that. The retention agreement Stormy signed back in February provided that she would pay me $100.00 and that any and all other monies raised via a legal fund would go toward my legal fees and costs. Instead, the vast majority of the money raised has gone toward her security expenses and similar other expenses. The most recent campaign was simply a refresh of the prior campaign, designed to help defray some of Stormy’s expenses.”
Stephen Gillers, a New York University Law School professor and expert on legal ethics, said Avenatti could face serious problems if he sued Trump against Daniels’ wishes.
“If he filed the case with her name when it was clear that she told him not to, then he could be sued for that,” Gillers said. “He could be sued for malpractice. If true, she has a malpractice case against him. I emphasize if true. And if true, he would be subject to discipline but not as serious as disbarment.”
The current CrowdJustice site is one of just three fundraisers highlighted on CrowdJustice’s homepage as of Wednesday afternoon. An earlier CrowdJustice site raised more than $580,000 for Daniels’ legal defense and no longer accepts contributions.
When The Daily Beast contacted Avenatti on Tuesday and asked about Daniels’ two active Crowdjustice sites, the lawyer said, “We reset the page as the focus of the case changed from when we first launched the site.” The Daily Beast also asked on Tuesday for a breakdown of expenses. In response, Avenatti said via email, “The money has gone toward the areas identified on the page. For instance, Stormy's security detail has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially due to the high level of death threats. The other out-of-pocket costs of the litigation are also extraordinary (and I'm not speaking of attorneys' fees). Trump and Cohen have spent millions in their defense].”
Avenatti claimed at the time that he hasn’t “received a dime in attorneys’ fees” from the crowdfunding effort. He said his firm has “spent well over a thousand hours of attorney time on the case at a value of over $1,500,000 (and no, we do not count interviews or media as attorney time).”
Avenatti’s legal work for Daniels hasn’t always succeeded. In the April defamation lawsuit against the president, Avenatti argued Trump hurt her by tweeting that she participated in a “total con job.” But in November, a judge dismissed the suit and ordered Daniels to pay the president’s legal bills. Trump’s lawyers asked for almost $350,000 in legal fees; Daniels is now fighting to try to lower that bill.
Daniels and her lawyer have become household names since the revelation that Michael Cohen—then Trump’s personal attorney—paid her hush-money during the presidential campaign. Daniels says she had an affair with Trump years before he ran for office (a claim Trump denies), and accepted $130,000 from Cohen to stay quiet.
Cohen admitted in court in August that he made illegal payments during the campaign at Trump’s direction. He pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts and is awaiting sentencing.
Avenatti, meanwhile, has become a darling of the #Resistance, traveling to Iowa, raising money for Democratic candidates, and openly touting a potential 2020 presidential bid. But his White House dreams have faced major challenges; earlier this month, he was arrested under suspicion of domestic violence—allegations he roundly denies. And when he represented migrant children whom the Trump administration separated from their parents earlier this year, long-time immigration lawyers told The Observer he was “fantastically irresponsible.”
And as The Daily Beast reported in October, court records reveal that the lawyer and his companies owed millions to the IRS in unpaid taxes and judgments.