CHICAGO — Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film star Stormy Daniels, dropped in on the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting to talk about everything but the lawsuit that had dominated national headlines all week.
First, the Los Angeles-based attorney stopped by a meeting about the party’s ethnic coalitions and updated DNC members on his legal work for undocumented immigrants separated from their families. Later, he walked into a meeting of the DNC Black Caucus, just as it wrapped up, and discussed how “guys who look like me” had elected President Trump.
Between the meetings, Avenatti made some time to talk to reporters about how he might run for president.
“I’ve never understood this idea of not shooting straight with people,” Avenatti said. “You all know which candidates are likely to enter the race. You know what’s going on behind the scenes. Why don’t people just come out and say: Yeah, I’m considering running for president?”
Avenatti, 47, began discussing a possible White House bid last month, and Democrats have taken no steps to impede him. The day after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign donation by paying Daniels not to discuss her relationship with Trump, Avenatti was in Iowa — his second trip to the state — to discuss disaster relief.
In Chicago, Avenatti told Democrats that he was invested in the future of “my party” and willing to go where he was needed. Before building his law practice, he had worked in party opposition research; in a way, he had come home.
“I’ve been asked to attend Democratic fundraisers, to assist Democrats raising money for the midterm elections,” Avenatti said. “I’ve set a personal goal of traveling to at least 20 states and assisting them.”
The lawyer’s appearance at the meeting also added a jolt to what activists expected to be four grinding days of meetings about their party’s future.
On Saturday, the full DNC is to vote on proposals to reform its primary system, most notably by preventing unpledged delegates — party leaders and elected officials often called “superdelegates” — from casting votes for any presidential candidate unless the 2020 contest moves to a second ballot at the national convention. It was a reform agreed upon by supporters of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after a 2016 primary season that seemed to have no end.
Asked about that subject, Avenatti said he had no comment — “I know enough about the issue to be dangerous” — and said he was focusing on the issues he knew. Chief among them was family separation, as he had taken on about 60 clients who had been separated from their families after the “zero tolerance” policy was put into effect with the aim of clamping down on illegal border crossings.
Avenatti was also watching the politics of that issue — initially a disaster for the president and a boon to Democrats. Just as he had done in Iowa two weeks earlier, Avenatti said that Democrats were making a mistake if they suggested that the response to ugly immigration crackdowns was abolishing the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“I don’t agree with that at all,” Avenatti said. “Talking about abolishing ICE is like talking about abolishing the police force. I don’t think that’s the right message, especially if one is going to run against this president if he’s still in office in 2020 — which is a big if.”
In recent weeks, however, Republicans had been talking more about the “abolish ICE” campaign than Democrats. The White House had also weighed in on the case of slain Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts, the suspect in whose killing was reported to be in the country illegally. Avenatti had some ideas about how Democrats could discuss that case.
“I don’t think that case should be politicized by anyone, whether they’re on the right or the left, period,” Avenatti said. “That family should be committed to grieve. It’s a tragic case. Any candidate or party that tries to politicize that death should face the wrath of voters and, frankly, of society. That young lady’s picture should not be put on T-shirts or signage. It’s an absolute outrage.”
Avenatti had to run to talk to other people — a handler said as much — but he wanted to emphasize that point.
“I will tell you: In the event that that death is politicized, and in the event that I have any opportunity to comment on it, I will bring down a load of bricks,” he said.
Avenatti walked away from the scrum of reporters, and then, en route to another DNC caucus, found himself talking to a correspondent from Vice.