The Sex-Tape Lawyer Who Worked With Michael Cohen to Silence Trump’s Women
Keith Davidson, the ex-lawyer for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, enjoyed a seemingly cozy relationship with Michael Cohen dating back years. Now he’s cooperating with the feds.
When Stormy Daniels’ former attorney spoke to CNN earlier this month, he said President Donald Trump’s loyal fixer had encouraged him to speak out.
“He suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts,” Keith Davidson said of Trump’s embattled lawyer, Michael Cohen, a man who was supposed to be his legal opponent.
Davidson negotiated hush agreements for two of the president’s alleged paramours—Daniels, the porn actress, and Karen McDougal, a onetime Playboy model—in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.
He inked Daniels’ deal with Cohen, who personally paid the adult actress $130,000 for her silence about the alleged Trump affair. And he was in touch with Cohen, too, after McDougal signed her “catch and kill” agreement with the publisher of the National Enquirer, which bought her story for the purpose of burying it.
Indeed, the lawyers on opposite coasts appear to have developed a symbiotic relationship in recent years, beginning when details of Stormy Daniels’ Trump affair first surfaced in 2011.
“Are you here at the behest of Michael Cohen?” CNN correspondent Sara Sidner asked during Davidson’s early April sitdown.
“No, no. No,” Davidson chuckled, shaking his head and smiling awkwardly. “Not in any way, shape or form.”
Davidson may not be chuckling for long, after a run-in with the feds last week.
On Friday, Davidson revealed he’s cooperating in the criminal probe of Cohen’s business dealings, led by federal prosecutors in New York. Just one week before, the FBI raided Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room for records related to, among other things, Cohen’s payoff to Daniels in the home stretch of the election.
Davidson provided “certain limited electronic information” to the Cohen inquiry, said his spokesman Dave Wedge. “He has done so and will continue to cooperate to the fullest extent possible under the law,” Wedge said in a statement sent to multiple media outlets, including The Daily Beast.
The news follows reports that the FBI seized recordings Cohen made of his phone conversations with Davidson.
During one call, “Cohen was being unusually simplistic, like he had bullet points that he was reading from to try and make himself look good,” a source told CNN. “He was trying to clarify the timeline of the agreements made with Davidson in his favor.”
Davidson didn’t consent to the recordings and “will pursue all his legal rights under the law” if they do exist, Wedge warned.
Cohen did not respond by press time to requests for comment about his relationship with Davidson, which has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.
Indeed, Daniels and McDougal both fired Davidson and filed lawsuits to invalidate the hush contracts that he helped to negotiate. In a now-settled lawsuit, McDougal accused Davidson of conspiring with Cohen behind her back as she worked out her $150,000 agreement with the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc. (AMI).
AMI has released McDougal from her contract in a settlement that frees her to dish about Trump—and to possibly pursue Davidson and Cohen in court. “For the avoidance of doubt, neither Keith Davidson nor Michael Cohen is an AMI Released Party,” the settlement states, adding that McDougal isn’t barred from making claims against the men.
McDougal’s counsel, Peter Stris, suggested legal action against Davidson was on the table. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Stris wasted no time linking him to Cohen and accusing the pair of committing legal fraud.
“The reason people like Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson are creating all of this mischief is because they’re not faithfully representing people,” Stris told Maddow, adding, “We see this pattern of powerful men—and it often happens to be the same ones here, Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson—doing these deals.
“I am very confident that Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson and others will have to account for the things that they have done,” Stris said.
Stris is representing a third woman once represented by Davidson: Shera Bechard. The former Playboy model and actress was at the center of another hush agreement negotiated between Davidson and Cohen in late 2017 and for which she received $1.6 million.
Cohen’s client, Republican donor Elliott Broidy, a vice chairman on Trump’s inaugural committee, allegedly paid Bechard for sex and impregnated her. Broidy said Bechard did not go through with the pregnancy.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Cohen facilitated the quarterly payments to Bechard on Broidy’s behalf.
Stris, on Twitter, said Bechard was “deeply distressed” that her confidential agreement with Broidy was leaked to the press and accused Cohen and Davidson of “profoundly disturbing and repeated collusion.”
For his part, Broidy said Cohen “reached out to me after being contacted by this woman’s attorney, Keith Davidson.” Broidy hired Cohen, he said, after Cohen “informed me about his prior relationship with Mr. Davidson.”
Cohen even used the same aliases for Bechard’s contract as he did with the infamous Daniels NDA: “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson,” the Journal reported.
Meanwhile, Cohen referred another Trump ally to Davidson. Chuck LaBella, a former producer on The Apprentice, enlisted Davidson over a dispute with actor Tom Arnold, who on Twitter accused LaBella of having damaging intel on Trump.
Davidson told CNN he wasn’t paid for sending an email to Arnold’s attorney, asking that the actor stop implying LaBella was a witness to any misconduct.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Wedge acknowledged Davidson and Cohen have a history of hammering out deals.
“Attorney Davidson has represented a few clients referred to him from a variety of different sources in which opposing counsel was Michael Cohen,” Wedge said in a statement. “He is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of lawyers Attorney Davidson has dealt with over his 18 years as a lawyer.
“Their relationship is purely professional and they have met in person only a couple of times in professional settings,” Wedge continued.
Responding to Stris’ allegations, Wedge said Davidson “dispute[s] many of the descriptions of these situations by media and others, and strenuously denies any insinuations of unethical or inappropriate behavior.”
“In these matters, and in all of his cases, Attorney Davidson has always advocated strongly for his clients’ best interests,” Wedge stated.
Keith Davidson has made a career of selling—or trying to sell—sex tapes and other dirt back to celebrities, who’ve ponied up to prevent Davidson’s clients from releasing their mortifying secrets to the media.
Called “the ‘Better Call Saul’ of D-list celebrities,” Davidson represented a woman soliciting cash for a sex tape of Austin Powers actor Verne Troyer. He also tried to profit off a sex tape of reality TV star Tila Tequila, who sued him.
The Smoking Gun reported Davidson beefed up his client rolodex of Hollywood hangers-on with the help of TMZ co-founder Mike Walters. Walters and TMZ employees enjoyed Davidson’s legal services in return, according to the report.
One hot tip Walters allegedly delivered to Davidson was the Hulk Hogan sex tape.
TMZ first reported about the tape’s existence in March 2012. Five months later, Davidson emailed Hogan’s lawyer, David Houston, saying he represented the “rights holder of the footage.” Over the phone, Davidson told Houston that the first sex tape received by Gawker was “a warning shot” and that Hogan should pay up or risk “increasing problems,” according to Houston’s deposition in a lawsuit filed by the wrestler.
Davidson has declined to comment on the Hogan case, and Walters doesn’t appear to have denied any involvement with the sex-tape imbroglio. According to court filings in the Gawker lawsuit, Walters had a personal relationship with Hogan, whose son worked with Walters’ father on a business venture. (Houston said he was shocked to learn Walters, a source of intel for Hogan’s camp, was the middleman between the leaker and Davidson, The Smoking Gun reported.)
In a second call, Davidson again inquired whether Hogan “would pay him” and warned there was “more than one” tape, court filings allege. Houston contacted the FBI, which set up a sting operation at a hotel in Clearwater Beach, Florida, targeting Davidson, who was suspected of extortion but never charged.
At the hotel, Davidson’s team handed over what they claimed were all copies of the Hogan recordings in exchange for a $150,000 check and the promise of $150,000 more. When Houston handed Davidson and a go-between the money, FBI agents stormed in with guns drawn, arresting the duo, states a lawsuit filed by Hogan under his real name, Terry Bollea, in May 2016.
Federal prosecutors declined to file charges against Davidson, though it’s unclear why. According to The Smoking Gun, Houston argued the government “had more than ample evidence” to prosecute.
Davidson’s law license has been suspended twice since 2010, California Bar records show. The first time, Davidson was accused of misconduct in cases, including his failure to appear at a hearing and case management conference in a medical malpractice suit. He was suspended a second time for failing to pay bar membership fees.
The 47-year-old sleaze-chaser was in touch with Cohen as early as 2011, when a gossip site published details about Daniels’ alleged romp with Trump. In his recent CNN interview, Davidson said he called Cohen after Daniels asked him to demand the website, The Dirty, remove the story about the alleged affair.
Daniels was connected to Davidson through her former manager, Gina Rodriguez, according to an October 2016 Smoking Gun report. Davidson told the site that Rodriguez, a former adult actress who’s represented Michael Lohan and “Octomom” Nadya Suleman, has referred him multiple clients over the years.
Nik Richie, founder of The Dirty, claims Rodriguez came to him to break the Daniels-Trump story, and that Daniels emailed him the salacious details in October 2011. But when Rodriguez secured a paid interview with In Touch magazine (which never ran), she hired Davidson to press The Dirty to remove its exclusive story “because she was shaking down Donald Trump,” Richie wrote on his site.
Aside from Rodriguez, Davidson appears to have other connections to the gossip blog. Karen McDougal’s ex-husband, James Grdina, invested in the website. And Grdina’s brother, Jay, had previously retained Davidson for his hangover-prevention drink company, SEC filings show.
Richie claims that Davidson sent his site a cease-and-desist letter, but that Cohen was involved behind the scenes and “negotiated directly with Stormy Daniels’ attorney.”
In the CNN special, Sidner asked Davidson what his initial conversation with Cohen was like.
“Well, I think there’s a lot of chest pounding,” Davidson answered. “To the best of my recollection, it was a lot of, you know, ‘How dare you’ and, you know, ‘We’ll chase you to the ends of the earth,’ and ‘This is not a true story’ and, you know, ‘We’re going to come and get you.’”
Davidson recalls telling Cohen to calm down. “I said, ‘Whoa. Hold on. Hold your horses’ and ‘That’s not at all the reason for our calling.’ And we said that Ms. Daniels does not want the story out and we’re going to do our best to take that,” Davidson said.
The opposing lawyers lost contact until summer of 2016, Davidson claims, when McDougal retained him to sell her story.
Davidson claimed he phoned Cohen as a “professional courtesy” and informed him a matter that “may or may not have involved his client” was resolved.
Dylan Howard, a senior AMI executive, interviewed McDougal in Los Angeles about her 10-month tryst with Trump. But after the hours-long meeting, Davidson informed McDougal that the company wasn’t interested in buying her story. Yet Davidson never mentioned that “he and AMI updated Mr. Trump’s representatives about Ms. McDougal” following this interview, her complaint alleged.
AMI renewed interest in McDougal’s story after she began talks to spill the beans with ABC News. In early August, Davidson sent McDougal an AMI contract and allegedly rushed her into signing it, she says. Then Davidson allegedly emailed Cohen, who was not a party to the legal matter, requesting a phone call.
“He then told Mr. Cohen on the phone that the deal was done—Ms. McDougal had been silenced,” her lawsuit said.
When asked about the supposed call, Cohen told The New York Times, “I don’t recall those communications.” The Times reported the men regularly communicated, however, via phone, text, and email after McDougal’s contract was signed.
Cohen would call Davidson weeks later—after hearing rumors that Stormy Daniels was getting interest in her story from media outlets. “I called Mr. Davidson and asked if this was true. He told me that he would find out,” Cohen told Vanity Fair last month. (Davidson himself confirmed this during his CNN interview.)
The Trump stalwart then asked if Daniels had a price in mind, and Davidson allegedly replied with the $130,000 figure. “He said that she needed the money,” Cohen recalled. “I didn’t come up with this number.”
Daniels signed her NDA with Cohen in late October 2016, and he wired the hush money to a client-trust account for Davidson, the Journal reported.
Davidson has mostly kept quiet about his role in Daniels’ payout, which was exposed by the Journal in January, and the McDougal contract.
One month later, Davidson suggested to a New York magazine scribe working on a profile about him that they should contact his legal opponents for comment.
His first suggestion for comment was Michael Cohen, who called him “a true gentleman.”
“Keith Davidson… is a tireless advocate for his clients,” Cohen told the reporter in an email. “In each and every interaction I’ve ever had with him, he has always been professional, ethical and a true gentleman.”
Davidson, during his CNN interview, said he met with Cohen at least once this year. In their last conversation, Cohen called and told Davidson he believed Daniels and McDougal waived their attorney-client privilege by speaking to the media.
Asked why he agreed to go on TV, Davidson said, “I’d like the truth to come out. To the extent that I can assist in that endeavor, that’s really why I’m here.”
“Is the whole truth out yet?” Sidner asked. “I don’t believe so,” Davidson concluded. “I think most of it. Not the whole truth.”