CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is America.
There he was, in between Stormy Daniels’s lawyer and an attorney for President Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, listening and trying to follow the legal battle that could sully the Trump presidency or leave Daniels with a $20 million penalty for violating a nondisclosure agreement.
Or none of those things. We’re not sure yet.
On Sunday, Daniels told Anderson Cooper on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that she had sex with Trump a single time in 2006, was threatened to keep quiet about the affair and described why she broke a nondisclosure agreement after Cohen paid her $130,000 days before the 2016 presidential election.
Cue the lawyers on Monday cable news. On one side, Michael Avenatti represented Daniels.
But like a legal Matryoshka doll, Cohen himself did not appear on “Anderson Cooper 360.” Instead, his attorney, David Schwartz, did.
Schwartz and Avenatti have exchanged heated words before. “You’re gonna go down in flames on this case,” Schwartz told Avenatti days before the Daniels interview aired.
But on Monday, between Avenatti and Schwartz, we have Toobin, himself a lawyer and a staff writer at the New Yorker who penned the definitive account of the O.J. Simpson trial, “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
So he knows a little something about legal theatrics tailor-made for cable news.
And it was dramatic, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
“All the testosterone was washing over me,” Toobin joked Tuesday morning on CNN’s “New Day,” recounting his uncomfortable position on the panel to hosts Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota. “I had to take a shower after.”
Toobin looked as if he was “trying to stay out of the food fight,” Camerota said with a laugh.
There was a lot of yelling, interrupting and posturing in the segment. The rushed CNN transcript simply drops in “(CROSSTALK)” when too many people speak simultaneously. It occurs 38 times in the incomplete account.
Here is a telling exchange played before this morning’s show:
“Let’s talk about Michael Cohen, what kind of man this is. This is the kind of guy who claimed in connection with that story that there’s no such thing as spousal rape,” Avenatti said, appearing to reference a 2015 Daily Beast report that recounted Cohen’s effort to dismiss a 1989 sexual assault claim by Trump’s former wife Ivana Trump.
Marital rape was outlawed in New York five years earlier, in 1984. “This is a legal genius,” Avenatti said.
“Right,” Schwartz responded.
“Right. Completely false,” Avenatti shot back. “The guy doesn’t even know the law. He’s a thug.”
“Right, right,” Schwartz responded.
“Your friend is a thug,” Avenatti said.
This is about the moment the thing went off the rails.
“Well, thank you. That’s a million dollars, a million dollars, a million dollars,” Schwartz said in a triumphant tone, referring to the legal agreement Daniels signed. Cohen has claimed that he will collect $1 million for every violation of it, with 20 alleged violations by mid-March, he said.
The CNN transcript is a bit conservative about how this exchange went down, leaving out some choice words. Avenatti butted in to say, “No, that’s $3 million,” as Schwartz ticked off the count.
“Thug. Thug,” Avenatti kept going, counting the number of times he said the word on his hands, no longer looking at Schwartz. The real audience, he began to realize, was at home.
“You know what?” Schwartz asked, a familiar playground response. “You’re a thug.”
There were more salvos. “Thug, thug,” Avenatti repeated, about 20 in all, according to a Washington Post video analysis.
The exchange made Toobin smile, at least for the first 10 or so “thug” references, until he wanted to steer the conversation toward what he was brought on the show to discuss: the legal consequences.
“Can I —” Toobin interjected, before being drowned out by Schwartz’s accusations of doctoring an apparent lie detector test conducted on Daniels. “Thug,” Avenatti responded.
Perhaps like many viewers, Toobin had enough, and he raised his hand toward Avenatti in an attempt to back him off the word. It appeared to work.
“Have you heard of a lawyer paying a judgment or a settlement on behalf of a client out of his own money?” Toobin asked Schwartz, referring to the $130,000 payment.
There was “nothing illegal” about it, Schwartz replied, asserting that Cohen was more than an attorney; he was a friend protecting Trump from “legal extortion.” (Cohen has also made a point of saying that Trump and his campaign were not involved in any way with the payment, but it’s still unclear whether campaign finance laws were violated.)
Cohen claims Daniels has repeatedly violated the nondisclosure agreement, and he has filed papers in federal court stating that he has the right to claim $1 million for each violation. Daniels has filed legal papers saying the agreement was invalid because it was not signed by Trump. And she also claims that Cohen has defamed her by saying she lied about the affair. This was the basis of Monday’s on-air fracas.
“Let me just sort of cut through the testosterone that’s, like, cascading around me here,” an annoyed Toobin said to the panel, asking whether the dispute would be settled through an agreement outside legal means or in federal court, where both parties may be compelled to release evidence of the alleged affair. It is too early to tell, Toobin said.
Toobin returned to his legal expertise Tuesday to pick apart Schwartz’s and Cohen’s claims of a big payday for every supposed violation of the nondisclosure agreement, which Avenatti did not sign.
There is a provision that says each violation would amount to a $1 million penalty, he said.
“But we were in a silly zone there,” Toobin said, speaking on behalf of many.