It has been about seven months since Michael Cohen implicated President Trump in felony campaign finance violations — an implication that Trump’s own Justice Department would later assert, too. And as the press-hungry attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti played a major role in making that happen. It remains the one crime in which Trump has been implicated by federal law enforcement, even after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation concluded last week.
But pretty much everything since then for Avenatti has been downhill. And the whole thing culminated Monday in bizarre, bicoastal indictments by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and New York.
Avenatti stands accused of trying to extort tens of millions of dollars from Nike in a scheme that sounds as desperate as it was brazen. Among the allegations from his indictment in New York:
- Just last week, Avenatti and an unnamed fellow attorney for high-profile clients met with Nike’s attorneys. They said they had a client with information about alleged payoffs Nike made to the families of high-profile high school basketball recruits.
- The two of them demanded not only that their client be compensated $1.5 million, but that they personally be given at least $15 million to $25 million to conduct an internal investigation of the company.
- Avenatti initially gave Nike only a matter of hours to decide what to do about his demands and said he would otherwise go public with his allegations just in time for the start of the NCAA basketball tournament — and for Nike’s quarterly earnings call. He repeatedly suggested that his going public would cost the company billions of dollars in market capital.
- Nike’s attorneys apparently tried to get Avenatti to admit to his scheme on tape, and Avenatti doesn’t appear to have recognized that. According to the indictment, “[Nike] Attorney-1 also reiterated, at the direction of law enforcement, that Attorney-1 did not think paying client $1.5 million would be a ‘stumbling block,’ but asked whether there would be any way to avoid AVENATTI carrying out the threatened press conference without Nike retaining AVENATTI and [Co-Conspirator 1]. … AVENATTI noted that he did not think it made sense for Nike to pay Client-1 an ‘exorbitant sum of money’ in light of his role in this. … After returning, AVENATTI stated, in part, ‘If [Nike] wants to have one confidential settlement and we’re done, they can buy that for twenty-two and half million dollars, and we’re done. … Full confidentiality, we ride off into the sunset …’”
- Even about an hour before his indictment, Avenatti was tweeting about holding the news conference that he is accused of threatening as part of the alleged extortion plot.
In California, Avenatti is accused of misusing client funds and lying about his income to obtain millions of dollars in loans from a bank. The indictments landed within minutes of each other.
The news follows plenty of bad headlines for Avenatti in recent months. Hot off the conclusion of the Cohen case, Avenatti inserted himself into now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. He represented a client who accused Kavanaugh of grotesque sexual assaults, but without allowing the media to corroborate her account first. After Kavanaugh was confirmed in October, Democrats accused Avenatti of undermining more credible Kavanaugh accusers. Suddenly, Avenatti, who was entertaining a 2020 presidential bid, was persona non grata.
Later that month, a judge ruled that Avenatti owed a former law partner $4.85 million in back pay — on top of $10 million from a previous judgment. Another headline noted that he owed millions in unpaid taxes and judgments.
In November, he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, although prosecutors declined to file charges. In between those two events, his law firm lost an appeal and was evicted for failing to pay more than $200,000 in rent. And later that month, Daniels said Avenatti sued Trump for defamation against her wishes and opened up a crowdfunding site for her legal defense without telling her.
By December, the failed defamation suit resulted in Daniels being ordered to pay nearly $300,000 worth of fees for Trump’s attorneys.
Daniels’s lawsuit against Trump over her nondisclosure agreement was dismissed in early March, and we soon found out that Avenatti was no longer representing her.
While Daniels had tempered her criticism of Avenatti previously, she indicated Monday that she was “saddened but not shocked” by his indictments and that he “dealt with me extremely dishonestly and there will be more announcements to come."
So it seems that things might continue to get worse for Avenatti, who is already facing the possibility of decades in prison.
We’ve seen in recent months how sudden notoriety can land people in trouble. For the most part, it has happened on Trump’s side of the ledger, with people like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and — with Avenatti’s help — Cohen. Now it’s apparently happening on the other side, too.