Donald Trump‘s personal attorney in the Michael Cohen matter showed up with some allegedly highly-relevant evidence at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) on Wednesday. And that evidence didn’t quite augur well for Stormy Daniels‘ attorney Michael Avenatti.
First, a bit of backstory. Since emerging as an equal-parts advocate for his client and avenging voice of legal-sounding reason against President Donald Trump, Avenatti has found himself embroiled in various controversies. Conservative media interests seem intent on taking him down a peg and every potential misstep is getting dozens of gallons of digital ink due to genuine journalistic interest in Avenatti’s seemingly out-of-nowhere prominence on the national scene.
One such issue has involved the financial situation of law firm Eagan Avenatti, LLP.
Last year, Eagan Avenatti went into (and out of) Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Earlier this month, Eagan Avenatti was slapped with a $10 million bankruptcy judgment. A government attorney at that same tribunal also admonished Eagan Avenatti for allegedly defaulting on back taxes that he had previously agreed to pay. Some of these alleged financial improprieties were given attention at the SDNY on Wednesday.
While making various cases for why Avenatti didn’t belong anywhere near the matter before the court, Michael Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan also raised the bankruptcy issue. Ryan said, “Candidly, he shouldn’t be asking us to answer questions; he should be asked to answer questions.”
Avenatti defended against the bankruptcy issue by bringing up President Trump’s own history of bankruptcies, noting, “Trump has had his own fair share of bankruptcies over the years and those haven’t disqualified him.” Avenatti also said his firm’s bankruptcy woes were irrelevant to the matter before the court and that said firm–Eagan Avenatti–had nothing to do with Daniels or her case.
That appears to have been an unforced error. After Trump attorney Joanna Hendon endorsed Cohen’s attorneys’ opposition to Avenatti playing any continued role in the case, she introduced emails that purported to show: (1) that Avenatti has used his Eagan Avenatti address while representing Ms. Daniels; and (2) that other attorneys at said firm have worked on Daniels’ case.
Here’s the rub: Avenatti has repeatedly claimed that Eagan Avenatti has “no role” in the Daniels case. He’s made this claim to various journalists. If Hendon’s emails–submitted to the court as an evidentiary exhibit–actually do show what she alleges they show, this could be quite a big deal.
Hendon also took this opportunity to lay it on thick, accusing Avenatti of contradicting his own sworn affidavit submitted to the court on the matter. Hendon said:
When someone, especially a lawyer, is prepared to be not straightforward, and cute, and I would say misleading, with the court, on the tiniest of matters, it raises a serious question about how that person–how that lawyer–will conduct themselves on the more serious matters.
So, what’s really the issue here? According to Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Finnegan, Eagan Avenatti is owned in part by Avenatti’s other law firm–Avenatti & Associates–and Michael Eagan. Avenatti’s firm holds a 75 percent stake in Eagan-Avenatti while Michael Eagan holds a 25 percent stake in said firm, according to documents obtained by Finnegan.
The addition of the Hendon emails–which allegedly show Eagan Avenatti attorneys communicating with President Trump’s counsel and other people regarding the Stormy Daniels case–adds a further wrinkle to Avenatti’s oft-repeated claim that his formerly bankrupt firm has nothing to do with his ongoing representation of Stormy Daniels.
Indeed, in response to questions from Law&Crime regarding the aforementioned $10 million bankruptcy judgment against Eagan Avenatti, Mr. Avenatti released the following statement:
Nonsense. Completely different law firm – no ties to Daniels case. Irrelevant. No judgment against me was issued. Who cares?
We’ll keep an agnostic outlook as to that last question.
Notably, however, Avenatti withdrew his pro hac vice motion right after today’s hearing.
[image via screengrab/NBC]
Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.