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'Have I Hit Bottom?': Michael Avenatti and the Fall of a Trump-Era ...

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Avenatti 2020

Positivity     48.22%   
   Negativity   51.78%
The New York Times
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The second-floor apartment is filled with boxes of files labeled things like “CONTEMPT MOTION,” though they could very well say “BULLSHIT” — boxes and boxes of “It’s Bullshit” and “I Don’t Traffic In Bullshit” and “The Whole Premise Is Complete Bullshit” — which is generally where he lands on the case against him, both legally and in the public eye.His main contention, his genuine belief, is that he would never have been pursued by federal prosecutors in three separate cases, on two coasts, held in solitary confinement alongside suspected terrorists and national security threats, if his name were not Michael Avenatti.This is not to say that he doesn’t admit to mistakes — he does. And finally, the way Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, served his own house arrest in his “multimillion-dollar luxury apartment,” Avenatti says, “with his Miró f---ing painting on the wall behind him when he does his YouTube interviews and his cable TV hits.” | Roger Kisby for Politico MagazineWhen I suggest to Avenatti that he could do his own live hits, launch his own podcast, reconnect with his friends at MSNBC and CNN — his old dinner partners in New York — he stops me.“I don’t think it would be smart. I don’t think it’d be a good look, and, you know, why risk it?” To hear other people bring up his name without being on set to challenge them, to yell like he used to — “it’s not killing me,” he says, “but it’s — it’s infuriating.”Avenatti always performed best with others watching, and no one has been watching for a very long time. “It could not have gone better, frankly,” Avenatti says. As he walked away from the mics after a press conference in New York, a woman screamed: “GOD WILL PROTECT YOU, MICHAEL!” Less than three weeks later, “60 Minutes” aired their interview with Daniels and Avenatti. | Paul Morigi/Getty Images and Andrew Harnik/AP Photo“It was very heady at the time,” Avenatti says.It is worth pausing here to remember this exact moment, just over a year into Trump’s presidency, with Democrats out of power in both chambers of Congress, the Mueller investigation carrying on out of view. People saw him as a vessel for their animus; they sent him information.It was only a few weeks before the Daniels case started to grow into something bigger — not for his client, who only did a fraction of the appearances he did, but for Avenatti himself. Avenatti takes to the camera, he says, “like a duck to water.” | Getty ImagesAt the “top 100” media event that spring, he remembers standing at the bar with MSNBC host Ari Melber, another new friend. As people came up to Avenatti, Melber leaned over and said, “You’re the belle of the ball.” An MSNBC spokesperson confirmed the exchange.“Yeah,” Avenatti replied.“I’m going to look back some day and say, ‘This was the peak. “I said, ‘OK, then you tell me who you think is going to beat this guy, and if you can make a case for them, then I agree with you, I’m not going to run.’” Later that summer, Avenatti appeared as the headliner at his first major Democratic Party event, the Wing Ding dinner, held every presidential season in an Iowa town called Clear Lake.Reporters rolled their eyes, he says. Isn’t this a publicity stunt?’” That night on stage, he told Democrats they needed to “fight fire with fire,” playing off Michelle Obama’s line at the Democratic convention two years earlier: “When they go low, I say, we hit harder,” Avenatti said. “It was so f---ing great seeing the look on all of these reporters’ faces.” Afterward, Avenatti says he finished off a bottle of Fireball with Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman, at a house party in Clear Lake. He was the kind of subject who “can be extremely aggressive in pushing back,” Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Finnegan said on a podcast after Avenatti’s arrest. I wasn’t rude to people.” If he had been, he says, they wouldn’t have invited him back again and again.Around that time, two political advisers told him that the next step in any serious presidential campaign would be a self-vetting process. One time was at a small dinner in 2018 in Washington, where a member of the party told me they remember asking Avenatti if he had had any “skeletons in his closet.” Avenatti, the person told me, looked around the room, took a “pregnant pause” and said, “Nope, not a goddamn thing.” Avenatti denied he ever told people that he was “as pure as the driven snow.” He says the only time he can remember someone asking him a question about “skeletons in his closet” was in October 2018, at a Vanity Fair event with the writer Emily Jane Fox. (Avenatti says he doesn’t remember the incident, “because it never happened.”)Christine Carlin, Avenatti’s first wife and the mother of his two daughters, said her ex-husband could be loose with particulars. Period,” Avenatti says now.)In November, he was arrested by police on suspicion of domestic violence in an incident with his ex-girlfriend, who accused him in a Vanity Fair report of verbal, psychological, and physical abuse. No charges were ever filed by prosecutors in connection with the arrest.In November, his relationship with Stormy Daniels was starting to unravel in public view: She claimed that the defamation case Avenatti had filed that summer against Donald Trump had been brought without her approval. (Avenatti provided a copy of the termination letter he sent Daniels late that month, citing a “lack of communication” and a “general lack of appreciation for our work.”)At the time, federal prosecutors in California were already investigating allegations that Avenatti had stolen from clients. Avenatti teamed up with Mark Geragos, a criminal defense attorney who had worked with Nike before, to negotiate a settlement, including a pitch for the two lawyers to lead a well-funded internal investigation to clean up the problem “because we didn’t trust Nike and its outside law firm Boies Schiller to do it properly or ethically,” Avenatti says.Six days after his first meeting with the company, on March 25, 2019, he was arrested on charges of trying to extort at least $25 million. “The fact that my life has been destroyed as a result of the Nike conviction and the government has given Geragos a complete pass while he continues to travel around the country on his private jet like a big shot," Avenatti says, “is a travesty.” Geragos declined to comment, citing his past representation of Avenatti in connection with his domestic violence arrest.)In a successive press conference on the West Coast, California prosecutors charged Avenatti in the second federal case, accusing him of stealing from clients “in order to pay his own expense and debts.” Afterward, Avenatti agreed to three interviews to talk about the arrest. In this courtroom sketch, defense attorney Howard Srebnick points to Avenatti — his client — as he makes opening remarks during the trial for the Nike extortion case in New York City on Jan. 29, 2020. One of Avenatti’s federal public defenders, Andrew Dalack, who has represented multiple clients in 10 South, said: “I’m not personally familiar with any case in which a person was put on 10 South for a substantial period of time without SAMs or a high-risk security concern related to their communication.”After he was processed at MCC, Avenatti met with a jail psychologist. It’s bizarre,” she said.Avenatti is convinced there is a more nefarious explanation.One day in February, he was on his way back to MCC from court, accompanied by three guards, when a senior correctional officer intervened, he says. Avenatti says the officer told him he was in 10 South at the direction of the attorney general, Bill Barr, and to have his lawyers “look into it.” Then he picked up the phone and buzzed Avenatti back to his cell. Dalack, Avenatti’s public defender, said the placement in 10 South was another example of the government “pursuing this as aggressively as they could.” At Avenatti’s sentencing hearing in the Nike case, Judge Paul G. “So I sat there on Valentine’s Day, as a convicted felon in 10 South, watching AC360 with Jeffrey Toobin, who was relishing the fact that I had just been convicted on multiple felony counts, as I ate my meal out of my plastic tray.”“Anderson actually pushed back at one point.” Cooper, the “60 Minutes” host, had interviewed Avenatti all three times he appeared on the program.“At one point Anderson said, ‘Well, you know, I mean, Michael Avenatti was a real attorney with real cases, right?’”For a man in free fall, there are three options.“I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this, and there are only three.”The first two are escape or suicide, neither of which he says he’s considered. Next month in New York, he is set to begin trial in the final case to go to court, where federal prosecutors will argue that Avenatti stole $149,000 from Daniels’s $800,000 book deal, which Avenatti helped negotiate. In the trial, you will hear “I would say a lot,” about Daniels’s activity in the paranormal space, said Robert Baum, Avenatti’s lead attorney in the case. As a result, Baum said, “her credibility becomes a major factor in the trial.” Daniels and her lawyer, Clark Brewster, declined to answer questions about the case.“At this point,” Avenatti says, “the only question is: Have I hit bottom?” “They wanted to cripple me.” When Manheimer took him in at the start of the pandemic, Avenatti was only supposed to stay for 90 days. I don’t know of anyone else who went from a potential presidential candidate, who I would argue was the greatest threat to Donald Trump — again, my truth, and I will always believe that and I think if some people were honest, they would agree — to El Chapo’s cell.”“There are many times — ” He stops himself.“There are not many times —”He corrects again.

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