Michael Avenatti has spent the past few months making Michael Cohen’s life hell.
The omnipresent attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels has been a constant in the churning news cycle, using an arsenal of tweets and cable news hits to keep pundits focused on the $130,000 that Cohen paid Daniels to keep her silent about her alleged affair with President Trump.
But lately, Avenatti has ranged farther afield. Last week, he set off another media frenzy by releasing a document detailing the hundreds of thousands of dollars Cohen received from major corporations and others in 2017 after pitching them on his access to the new president. It said Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, took in $1.2 million from Novartis, $600,000 from AT&T, and $500,000 from the U.S. subsidiary of a company owned by a Russian oligarch. Much of the information in the document, which appeared to be based on information in Cohen’s bank records, was soon confirmed by major news outlets.
Then on Sunday, Avenatti tweeted out a series of screenshots from Dec. 12, 2016 showing Cohen and a group of unidentified men in the lobby of Trump Tower. According to Avenatti, one of the men is Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the head of a division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund who has been accused in a lawsuit of trying to bribe Trump administration officials.
The disclosures appear to be part of Avenatti’s ongoing effort to discredit Cohen’s character and business record in the court of public opinion.
“I think it’s part of a very successful public relations campaign to garner sympathy for his client and spread on-the-record materials relating to Mr. Cohen that he’s come in to possession of,” Paul Rosenzweig, a former legal adviser to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, told TPM.
But Avenatti’s revelations left some legal observers wondering what exactly they have to do with his efforts to free Daniels from the non-disclosure deal she says was improperly executed, or to intervene in the criminal proceedings against Cohen currently underway in Manhattan.
“It doesn’t seem like it furthers the legal interests of Stormy Daniels and her desire to be released from the NDA and/or obtain damages from Cohen or the President,” Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who worked alongside Special Counsel Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, told TPM in a phone interview.
Avenatti’s public advocacy is also giving fodder to Cohen’s efforts to stop Daniels from intervening in the matter of search warrants executed against Cohen in New York. At a federal court hearing in late April, Avenatti asked that Daniels be allowed to intervene out of concern that some of the materials seized from Cohen’s office and residences could be pertinent to her defamation case.
Lawyers for Cohen have objected, and Judge Kimba Wood is mulling the issue.
Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, argued in court filings last week that Avenatti should be barred from intervening for releasing the document on Cohen’s finances. Ryan wrote that Avenatti “has no lawful basis to possess” the records, and that several of the transactions in Avenatti’s document actually involved different Michael Cohens living in Israel and Canada.
Avenatti responded in a Monday filing that it was his First Amendment right to publish information about Cohen that is “of the utmost public concern,” and that Daniels should be allowed to have counsel fight for her “important and legitimate interests in protecting her records.”
Wood could be “looking at Avenatti’s tendency to be on television and now to release information,” Zeldin said. “She might say, I just can’t have you in my case. Or she might say, you can be in it and I’ll subject you to a strict gag order: no TV, no Twitter.”
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, barred all parties involved in her case from making “statements to the media or in public settings” last year in order to avoid influencing a jury with pretrial publicity.
In an interview with MSNBC Monday, Avenatti said he released the information about Cohen because “people should have the truth, the whole truth.”
“The fact of the matter is if information comes into our possession we believe is credible and that we believe people should be asking questions about, we’re going to release it publicly,” Avenatti told MSNBC. “And ultimately, people can decide whether it’s credible or not or whether there should be follow-up investigation or not.”
Reached by phone hours earlier, Avenatti had a blunter message for those questioning his strategy: “If they don’t like it, tough shit. They should get used to it, ‘cause we’re not changing.”