No news is still news, so long as it concerns Donald Trump. This morning’s significant no-news is that Stormy Daniels, her real-life alter ego Stephanie Clifford and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have cancelled a planned meeting with the federal prosecutors who are investigating Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. You know, the lawyer who paid Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 elections, in return for a confidentiality agreement about an alleged tryst with Donald Trump in 2006. Trump denies that the alleged tryst and pay-off took place. He also says that he and Michael Cohen are now just good friends.
Avenatti told news organisations that prosecutors had cancelled the meeting because news organisations had reported that the meeting was going to take place. ‘I was shocked at that response,’ said Avenatti. He didn’t speculate as to who might have tipped off the press, or who might benefit from the spectacle of Daniels and Avenatti fighting their way through a scrum of cameras. Perhaps there is no need to speculate. We know that Daniels and Avenatti have cooperated with a subpoena from the prosecutors, and turned over documents relating to the confidentiality agreement. We shouldn’t know this, because it too is meant to be confidential; Daniels and Avenatti cannot speak publicly about it. But we know it anyway, because someone in the know has told Associated Press all about it, on condition of anonymity.
Similarly, we know about Michael Cohen’s financial records. In May, Avenatti sent a dossier about Cohen’s private financial dealings to multiple media outlets. After the New York Times published some of the material, the Treasury Department opened an investigation into whether the material had been illegally leaked to Avenatti by someone in the Treasury Department. Avenatti refuses to say who gave him that information.
So, either the prosecutors or Avenatti and Daniels are leaking to the press. Probably both sides, given the sieve-like propensities of all the participants. The Trump presidency is a leaky ship. As one rat goes overboard, still denouncing the captain as it hits the water, another scrambles aboard, boasting of its access. Did the prosecutors tell the media that Daniels and Avenatti were coming, or did Daniels and Avenatti do it? Or did each side tip off the media without the other’s knowing? Perhaps that was the shock to which Avenatti alluded.
Avenatti is that rare but familiar bird, the celebrity lawyer who is more of a celebrity than his client. Even a client with as striking a public profile as Stormy Daniels. He is a showbiz lawyer with a late bloom of conscience. His big early cases include acting for members of The Eagles, a band who never took their own advice to ‘take it easy’ when it came to suing each other; defending Paris Hilton against a $10m defamation suit; and negotiating an idea-theft suit with the producers of The Apprentice, Mark Burnett and someone called Donald Trump. Then, with the government getting into the healthcare business, Avenatti moved into the business of group actions against healthcare businesses.
Along the way, Avenatti has invested in and walked away from a coffee franchise, leaving more than fifty lawsuits in his wake. He has found the time and money to compete as a sportscar driver, but not to keep up with a mass of bad debts. His firm, Eagan Avenatti, is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. In December 2017, a court found that Avenatti owed $4.8m in unpaid fees to a former legal partner, $2m in back taxes, and $1m to various creditors. In May, a court handed down a $10m judgment in favor of a former colleague, Jason Frank, who claims that Avenatti withheld millions of dollars from him. Earlier this month, Frank filed a motion to place a lien on Avenatti’s profits, the Stormy Daniels case included.
This is not the profile of a crusader for justice, other than the kind who waves the sword of justice around in order to distract us from the sleaze behind his shield. Stormy Daniels is honestly corrupt. She has made her body into her business, and makes no bones about it. She has entered the lowest form of show business, the pornography industry, and wishes to enter reality television and celebrity news, which are better-paid and less degrading spheres of show business, in that the fakers still expose themselves, but get to keep their clothes on.
Avenatti, however, seems to resemble types that Daniels and her friends might recognise. When it comes to moralising about money and contracts, he resembles a preacher with his pants around his ankles. In the business of managing the media in order to inflate the case, he resembles the ‘manager’ who takes an inordinate slice of a working girl’s earnings.
As it takes a scoundrel to catch a scoundrel, Avenatti may well bring down Michael Cohen. Yet even if Avenatti wins the civil suit that opens in July and secures the annulment of the non-disclosure agreement, he will still be a long way short of making anything stick to Donald Trump. He will, however, find that a lot of money will stick to his hand as Stormy Daniels completes her lucrative metamorphosis into Stephanie Clifford. If he loses the suit, he can convert his ‘resistance’ into a cable news sinecure. It’s win-win for Avenatti. Too bad it won’t be win-win for his client. If he loses in July, she should do more than spank him with a rolled-up copy of Trump magazine.