The ever-escalating Stormy Daniels saga took another strange turn Tuesday night when CNN brought attorneys for the porn star and Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, into its studios and let them rip into each other on prime-time television.
Michael Avenatti, an attorney and spokesman for Daniels, and David Schwartz, an attorney for Cohen, spent nearly a half-hour trading insults and accusations and waving their hands at each other. The heated discussion was about a nondisclosure agreement that Daniels says in legal filings she signed to stay silent about an affair she had with the president.
At one point Avenatti, who has mounted a media blitz in recent days, held up an unflattering picture of Cohen and demanded Schwartz explain why he wouldn’t come onto the network.
“You’re a very passionate guy on behalf of your client, Michael Cohen,” Avenatti told Schwartz. “If Michael Cohen is such a stand-up guy, where is he? Where is this guy? Why won’t he come and sit in this chair?”
Schwartz responded, “Believe me, he can’t wait to come here and sit with you and talk about this case.”
In another choice exchange, Schwartz told Avenatti, “I hope you have a good malpractice policy, because when she owes $20 million dollars, she should go after you to collect the money.”
Avenatti responded: “You know, Anderson, the last time an attorney pointed at me and made threats like this I tagged him for $454 million dollars.”
The segment, hosted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, comes amid a bitter legal dispute over the agreement.
Daniels says in court papers that she signed the document just before the 2016 election in exchange for $130,000 in hush money — a payment arranged by Cohen, as the Wall Street Journal reported in January.
After embarking on a striptease tour earlier this year called “Make America Horny Again,” Daniels sued Trump in March to get out of the agreement, alleging it was invalid because he never signed it. Cohen fired back in his own filings last week, claiming he was entitled to $20 million in damages because she had violated it 20 times.
Adding to the tension, CBS’s “60 Minutes” is scheduled to air an interview between Cooper and Daniels on March 25. The White House has denied that there was ever an affair between Trump and the porn star.
In Tuesday’s CNN segment, Schwartz told Cooper that Trump was a third-party beneficiary to the agreement and that Cohen had acted on his own accord. There was a spot for Trump’s signature, but Trump didn’t sign it. He didn’t have to, Schwartz said.
Cooper asked whether it was normal for an attorney to pay out of his own pocket on his client’s behalf.
“No, but there’s nothing illegal about it. And, given the context of this relationship, there’s certainly nothing unethical about it,” Schwartz said.
“If all of that is believable,” Avenatti spit back, “then why did Mr. Cohen draft an agreement with a signature line for Donald Trump?”
Schwartz said, “That’s painting a fictional picture of the whole scenario.” He then accused Avenatti of deliberately advising Daniels to “blatantly violate” the contract.
“She’s going to be liable for $20 million,” Schwartz said, pointing a finger at Avenatti, “and Michael Cohen is going to collect every single penny of that money, make no mistake.”
They sparred for several minutes over the provisions of the agreement, some of which require Trump to stay away from her and her family and release her from claims he has against her, according to Avenatti. Schwartz called Avenatti’s view of the agreement “absurd” and again said Daniels would be on the hook for a lot of money.
“Why not just let her talk?” Avenatti interjected, wagging his finger at Schwartz. “Why is it so important to your friend and the president of the United States to keep this woman under wraps, to keep her under the thumb, to shut her up?”
By way of analogy, Avenatti compared disputes over the agreement to buying a house for $130,000, then being told that only one of the bedrooms was available.
“If it’s gonna take him that long to explain it to the judge, he’s in big trouble,” Schwartz said. “You’re gonna go down in flames on this case.”
In the weeks since the Wall Street Journal first reported that Cohen had arranged the $130,000 payment, questions have swirled about whether it was intended to protect Trump at a time when his election was starting to look like a real possibility. As The Washington Post has reported, there are at least two complaints to the Federal Election Commission alleging the money was meant to influence the election and therefore amounted to an illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign. The Post also reported last week that Cohen sought to prevent Daniels from airing her story about her alleged affair with the president as early as 2011.
Cohen has acknowledged that he personally paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and said he was not reimbursed by the Trump campaign. He told Vanity Fair in an interview this week that the agreement wasn’t an election issue and denied claims by Avenatti that Daniels had been manipulated or intimidated into signing it. “Unlike Mr. Avenatti, we are not handling this matter through the court of public opinion,” Cohen said. “We are handling it through a court of competent jurisdiction.”
Cooper asked Schwartz: “Why should anyone honestly believe this had nothing to do with the election?”
Schwartz responded, “Because this is when she came out and threatened to disclose this information.”
Avenatti scoffed. “It had everything to do with the election,” he said. “It is clear as day.”
Schwartz shot back: If it’s already an invalid contract, why file a lawsuit over it?
“Because we want a judicial determination that this agreement is trash,” Avenatti said, “which it is.”
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