In the months leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I was in talks with Stormy Daniels’ camp about having her come forward to discuss her alleged affair with then-candidate Donald Trump. We’d corroborated Daniels’ claim of an extramarital Trump tryst with three sources, including fellow porn star Alana Evans, and were waiting on Daniels to run it, as my reporting partner on the piece, Aurora Snow, and I felt it improper to do so without her blessing.
If you’ve been following the news since January, you probably know what happened next: Trump’s lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in hush money—complete with a nondisclosure agreement—and Daniels declined to participate in our story. Since the payoff reveal, both Trump and Cohen have denied that the now-president had any knowledge of the payout, leading Daniels to file suit against Trump and Cohen, alleging that their settlement agreement is invalid because the president failed to sign it and she should subsequently be released from her NDA. She also alleged in the suit that the payment made in the final weeks before the election violated campaign-finance laws.
Daniels shared her side of the story with 60 Minutes in late March, alleging that she felt pressured into having sex with Trump though insisted that she was “not a victim.” She also said that in 2011, after she’d participated in an interview with In Touch about the supposed Trump affair, a man approached her and her young daughter in a Las Vegas parking lot, told her to “leave Trump alone” and “forget the story,” and threatened her life. Daniels then released a composite sketch of her alleged perpetrator in mid-April, and sued the president for defamation after he tweeted that it was “a total con job.”
While Daniels has only completed a few press appearances since the 60 Minutes sit-down—as well as a recent surprise cameo on Saturday Night Live—her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has served as her ubiquitous mouthpiece, appearing on dozens of cable-news programs to talk up his client’s headline-grabbing case.
The slick Avenatti, 47, has managed to outmaneuver the president and his high-powered legal team every step of the way. Last week, ahead of his appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, I sat down with the attorney at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan where, over espresso, we discussed the Daniels case(s), their media strategy, and why they’ve decided to take on the most powerful man in the country.
Editor’s Note: For Avenatti’s thoughts on Trump legal team member Rudy Giuliani’s recent series of cable-news blunders, you can visit here.
Let’s talk about the defamation suit you filed on behalf of your client, Stormy Daniels, against President Trump after he retweeted a person claiming that the composite sketch you released was Daniels’ ex-husband, Michael Mosny, with the president referring to the sketch as “a total con job.”
I think [Trump] did defame her, and immediately when it happened, we came out publicly and stated that we were going to file a claim—or we were seriously considering it. And if we were going to file a claim, it would be in Los Angeles in connection with the then-existing case, or we would file in a separate case. Ultimately, we decided to file in a separate case and we decided to bring suit here in federal court in the Southern District of New York, because he’s technically a resident there.
By retweeting it, the president seemed to be co-signing the theory that the person in the sketch who allegedly threatened Daniels was her ex-husband.
I think in general, what he was stating was that she had fabricated the story about the assault—and fabricated the details surrounding the sketch—in order to have this composite sketch created. Which begs the question: If he didn’t have anything to do with Stormy Daniels, and if he didn’t know anything about what happened in 2011 relating to the situation with In Touch and the potential publication of the magazine article, and if he didn’t know anything about the agreement, and if he didn’t know anything about the $130,000 or Michael Cohen’s actions, then how the hell would he know that the man was nonexistent or not?
As far as the man in the sketch goes, our reporting has led us to believe that there may be a connection between the man in the sketch and the now-defunct MMA league—Affliction—that Trump and Cohen ran for a period of time.
There may be a link between the MMA league—or business—and the threat. We don’t know that yet, but it has crossed our mind as well. Though to be clear, the individual that approached her at her car was not the gentleman [Fedor Emelianenko] that was widely reported recently as being questioned by the FBI.
And you’ve apparently offered a large sum of money to ID the person in the sketch.
We’ve offered a $131,000 reward. And we’ve received thousands of leads in response to the release of the sketch. Many of those were dismissed pretty quickly. I would classify it as about 300-400 that have deserved serious inquiry. From that group, there has emerged two to four individuals that we’re taking a really hard look at right now.
Is one of those people Tom Brady? Just kidding.
He already copped to it, so we’re trying to find somebody to actually take the fall for Tom Brady. [Laughs]
I’m sure you’ve seen the news that Harold Bornstein, Trump’s personal doctor, came forward to allege that the president sent his goons to raid his office last February and take back his medical files. I don’t think it’s fair yet to say that the president was trying to hide something medically, but Daniels claims that the two had unprotected sex, so did Trump have a medical issue that Daniels would know or be concerned about?
If you’re talking about STDs, there’s no evidence of any sexually transmitted diseases or anything of that nature whatsoever. To the extent that he ever had those, Stormy nor I have no basis of knowledge for that, and she certainly did not contract anything from him.
The sex was allegedly unprotected, so was there a pregnancy scare?
No. Absolutely not. There was no pregnancy scare with a potential child of Donald Trump’s.
We ran a story recently reporting that Michael Cohen said he was in contact with Trump the day of the Stormy Daniels deal…
…This whole story about Michael Cohen not being able to reach Donald Trump, and that’s why Donald Trump did not sign the agreement, is complete nonsense, in my view.
Where do you think Michael Cohen stands right now, in light of the raids on his office and hotel room?
I think there’s no question that Michael Cohen is in a boatload of trouble in connection with this. I think the amount of evidence that the FBI recovered in connection with those raids is going to be enormous, and very problematic to Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump—and potentially others. As it relates to how Michael Cohen has handled this, I think his handling of this has been atrocious, and you need not look any further than him being out on a stoop with some of his compadres while the rest of us were in court on a Friday afternoon, and he’s out there with his friends smoking cigars and looking like he doesn’t give a shit.
It looked like a scene out of The Sopranos.
I guess it was supposed to send a message that he wasn’t that concerned about it and that he didn’t give a shit, and that’s exactly the message that it sent. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was received very well.
What role do you see Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, playing in all of this going forward? Daniels alleged that he was present during their rendezvous, so I’m curious to know if you think he’ll play more of a role in the case as it progresses.
I think there’s little question that Keith Schiller knows where a lot of bodies are buried, knows a lot of things that could be potentially very damaging to Mr. Trump. But I do think that Mr. Schiller is five times tougher and five times more intelligent than Michael Cohen. In fact, if Michael Cohen was built like Keith Schiller, I don’t think we’d be here.
Jessica Drake, who has accused the president of sexually harassing her, recently came forward to allege that Daniels confided in her about the parking-lot intimidation incident. Is that claim accurate?
Did Stormy confide in her about the incident in Vegas? Yes. That’s 100-percent accurate. On multiple occasions.
Did she confide in others about the incident in Vegas?
We’re not going to say at this time.
What do you make of Sean Hannity’s name surfacing in connection to Michael Cohen? I’m curious if you think Hannity will be playing a role in your cases going forward.
All I can say is, in light of his name surfacing in connection with the Michael Cohen raids, I think that his wings are going to be somewhat clipped as it relates to this issue, and as it relates to his ability to jump to the defense of the president as it unfolds.
You’ve been playing the game quite well, I must say.
When people say we’re “playing the game,” we’re not really “playing the game.” I think our media strategy has been spot-on; I don’t think anyone can argue with it. I think we’ve shown the ability to properly manage the media attention, and use the attention to our advantage. We’ve had a lot of help along the way from the other side. But as it relates to this claim that it’s just drip-drip-drip, that’s just baseless. There may be certain pieces of evidence we already have that we’re cautious to release—except in a strategic manner—but there are other pieces of evidence that we acquire in this case every day. If we acquire new evidence on a Tuesday and release it on a Friday, that’s not drip-drip-drip.
Speaking of new evidence, what’s on the disc you tweeted out?
I’m not answering any more questions about the disc. I’m tired of answering questions about the disc. When we’re ready to release the contents of the disc—when and if we’re ready—we’ll release it.
Because the settlement agreement seemed to indicate that there may be texts or photos in Daniels’ possession that could corroborate her relationship with Trump or bolster her case.
I’m not going to be answering any questions about any images, video, or anything about that either.
We reported that Daniels had allegedly confided in her then-pal—and fellow actress—Alana Evans about the alleged Daniels-Trump affair when it happened back in 2006. Were there others that she confided in, or that could corroborate her claim?
Yes. She would speak with Donald Trump during 2006 and 2007 on the telephone, and very often he would be on the speakerphone, and there would be people listening in on those conversations. That wasn’t unusual. And Donald Trump knew that he was on speaker in many of those instances.
You’re spending quite a bit of time on this. How are your bills being paid here?
I think I’ve answered this question ad nauseum, but I’ll answer it again: All of the money relating to the legal expenses associated with this case are coming from either my firm, Stormy Daniels, or the money that’s been raised by way of the CrowdJustice.org site. There’s no third parties backing this, there’s no left-wing cabal, there’s no political PAC, there’s no left-wing interest, Breitbart’s not backing it either. This focus on who’s paying the bills is absurd and it’s meant to undermine the effort, because otherwise they don’t know what to do with people who just want disclosure of the truth. They have to come up with some nefarious “reason” for it.
What’s the ideal end game here for you and your client? And what would you say if Trump came to you with a hefty monetary settlement, would that suffice?
Only if it included a full disclosure to the American people about what exactly happened here—and when I say “full disclosure,” I mean full disclosure. Absent that, it’s not gonna happen. It doesn’t matter what the sum of money is. I think I’ve made our position clear over the last six, seven weeks, but to the extent that it’s not clear, let me be clear: it doesn’t matter how much money. He could offer us $20 million, and if the $20 million includes a provision that allows him to settle the case without coming clean to the American people about what happened with the $130,000 payment, about what happened related to the negotiation of the agreement, etc., there’s no deal—even at $20 million. People may doubt that, but I’m here to tell you right now: it’s never going to happen.
So it’s essentially about holding powerful people accountable for their actions.
It’s 100 percent about that. And my client and me are committed to having a full disclosure of the truth to the American people about what happened.
Do you see the finish line at all?
We’re in for the long haul. We’re in for a long battle. And we’ve always had that view.
Daniels has done a commendable job handling her trolls on Twitter, but I’m sure this process is taking its toll on her. How bad has it gotten, with death threats and the like?
It’s gotten very bad for both her and I—as well as threats directed on our families—but to the people that think they’re going to threaten us in an effort to go away, here’s what I’ll say: bring it. Because we’re not going anywhere. And anybody who thinks we’re going to be intimidated into dropping this, they haven’t been paying attention in the last seven weeks.