Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti has figured out why he’s being prosecuted for allegedly extorting Nike and defrauding adult film star Stormy Daniels: the California and New York states’ attorneys are doing the bidding of a “vindictive” President Donald Trump.
In a series of filings and appearances before courts in both states, Avenatti’s lawyers claim that the outlandish attorney “made some very, very powerful enemies” when he tangled with Trump over an alleged affair — and subsequent “hush” agreement — with Daniels, and when he attacked Trump adviser and personal counsel, Michael Cohen.
Those enemies, Avenatti’s lawyers claim, include prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, where Avenatti is facing charges of “federal extortion and interstate threat,” and “fraud and aggravated identity theft,” according to documents filed with the court back in March and May, respectively.
Attorneys with the Southern District of New York allege that Avenatti “attempted to extract more than $20 million in payments from a publicly traded company [Nike] by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.” They later added the fraud charges, noting that Avenatti allegedly “used misrepresentations and a fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti’s client to an account controlled by Avenatti. Avenatti then spent the money principally for his own personal and business purposes.”
His lawyers called those charges “vindictive,” Courthouse News reports.
The judge, of course, didn’t buy it, asking Avenatti’s counsel what he meant by, “vindictive:” “This office is not known for being vindictive.”
Avenatti’s counsel went on to suggest that “times have changed” now that William Barr is Attorney General, though he refused to elaborate, even when the judge prompted him to explain what Barr, who is serving as U.S. Attorney General, had to do with Avenatti’s case. The answer is very little.
Last week, Avenatti himself attacked U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a Republican, who is handling the charges leveled against Avenatti over his alleged extortion of Nike. Berman is a former law firm partner of Rudy Giuliani, according to Courthouse News, and, according to a filing from Avenatti’s team, gave around $5,400 to Trump’s campaign back in 2016.
Ultimately, the prosecution labeled Avenatti’s excuse “frivolous,” and predicted that his team’s motion would fail. The Berman connection seems to be the best Avenatti can offer in terms of a connection between his prosecution and President Donald Trump, and Berman isn’t handling Avenatti’s case in court. That job fell to Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky, who, in his own filings, suggested that Avenatti has offered no concrete evidence to back up his conspiracy theory.
Outside the courtroom following his appearance, Avenatti posed another theory: that he’s being prosecuted to distract from Trump’s current impeachment woes, though he doesn’t seem to be up on the latest news.
After the hearing, Avenatti said he was in the fight of his life while “the biggest criminal occupies the White House.”
“Welcome to Russia!” he said.
It appears no one told him the Russia inquiry was resolved, largely to the President’s satisfaction, and was recently replaced by an inquiry into the President’s dealings with Ukraine.
Avenatti is facing coast-to-coast prosecutions, and will begin his first trial, in the Nike case, next month. After that concludes, Avenatti will face a New York judge in April on charges that he extorted Stormy Daniels. If that wraps up quickly, Avenatti will face a Californa judge on similar charges in May.