Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels, defended his explosive disclosure last week of more than $1 million in payments from companies including AT&T Inc. to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer.
Lawyers for Cohen are trying to block Avenatti from participating in a suit over evidence seized in FBI raids on Cohen’s home, hotel room and office April 9. They claim Avenatti’s release on Twitter of information about Cohen’s finances from bank records should disqualify him from participating in the case. The parties are due back in court May 24.
Earlier Monday, Avenatti, a California lawyer, asked a judge to let him represent his client, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in litigation over Cohen’s records in New York federal court. It’s a type of request that’s routinely granted in other cases.
In a court filing later Monday, Avenatti said Cohen’s request to keep him from representing his client in New York “fails to cite any legal authority that would support the denial” and is “a highly improper attempt to soil” him.
“Avenatti is clearly protected by the First Amendment rights of free speech to publish information on matters that, without serious dispute, are a matter of public concern,” according to the filing.
Last week, Avenatti released details of wire transfers to a Delaware company set up by Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. The firm, Essential Consultants LLC, is the same one Cohen used to pay $130,000 to Daniels as part of an agreement to keep her from talking publicly about her claim that she had sex with Trump in 2006. Cohen received additional payments from companies including AT&T, Swiss drug-maker Novartis AG and a U.S. private-equity firm tied to a Russian oligarch.
The case is In the Matter of Search Warrants Executed on April 9, 2018, 18-mj-03161, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).