Last week, federal prosecutors released a 61-page indictment against attorney Michael Avenatti, who allegedly bilked his own clients to bankroll his lavish lifestyle. Last month, federal prosecutors in New York charged him with trying to extort millions from Nike.
Avenatti says he is not guilty, and he is entitled to a presumption of innocence on criminal charges. Still, his rise and fall presents an apt moment to ask how such a feral figure was so quickly elevated in the public eye, before what seems to be an inevitable fall.
It’s not a long story. In 2016, porn actress Stormy Daniels accepted $130,000 in hush money meant to keep her quiet about what she says was a 2006 tryst with now-President Donald Trump, which he incredibly denies.
Around 2018, Daniels came up with a dubious excuse to break the contract, even though she already had pocketed the money — Trump never actually signed the document in which he and Daniels were identified under phony names.
That’s not the sort of case on which most lawyers would want to hang their reputations. But then Daniels found Avenatti, who excelled at lending a pseudo-forensic gloss to what essentially was a money-grubbing enterprise.
The exercise won Daniels a spot on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last year, as well as on late-night comedy shows. She is glib, profane, and provides an excuse to air copious cleavage shots. She confirmed the media narrative about Trump’s predatory treatment of women. And her initial claim is believable because it’s hard to see why Trump would pay for her silence if nothing ever happened between them.
Avenatti provided the political-umbrage lipstick for the pig. He was happy to call the hush money an illegal campaign contribution — even if Trump personally bankrolled the payoff. And he seemed downright indignant that anyone might want to silence a client whose silence had been sold.
The shameless attorney quickly became a fixture on cable news because he fed many anchors’ desire to atone for elevating Trump in 2016 — never suspecting that Trump would win not only the GOP primary but also the general election.