Avenatti `Publicity Tour' Slammed by Judge in Cohen FBI Case
(Bloomberg) -- Michael Avenatti’s "publicity tour" and harsh tweets about President Donald Trump’s legal team may have caught up with the media-savvy California attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels.
At a hearing Wednesday in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said Avenatti’s public clashes with Trump’s longtime personal attorney and "fixer" Michael Cohen, whose business and finances are being investigated, could taint a jury if charges are ever filed.
"I can’t stop you, unless you’re participating in a matter before me," Wood said to Avenatti in the packed courtroom. But she added if he wants a seat at the courtroom table, he’d have to cut out the media appearances and stop talking about Cohen’s guilt.
"That means you would have to stop doing some of the things you’ve been doing," Wood said.
Avenatti gave a statement afterward to press gathered outside court, where he said Cohen and his attorneys "are hell bent on continuing to hide the truth from the American people." He then withdrew his request to take part in the court hearings, but said he may refile it later. As a Los Angeles-based lawyer he needs court permission to participate in a New York case, a request Cohen challenged.
Avenatti has voiced concern that material seized in an FBI raid last month of Cohen’s office and home may include privileged documents and secretly recorded audio about Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. He didn’t give details about the alleged recording, which he called "surprising and disturbing." Clifford claims she had sex with Trump and that Cohen paid her $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about it.
Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan said Avenatti is "seeking the aggrandizement of a single attorney and his client" with his request to take part in the proceeding. "I’ve never seen an attorney conduct himself in the manner Mr. Avenatti has," Ryan said.
A special master assigned to go through the seized material to prevent the government from viewing documents protected by attorney-client privilege hasn’t identified whether any pertain to Clifford. The actress’s request to intervene in the case hasn’t been withdrawn but is on hold.
Wood gave Cohen’s team until June 15 to review the seized documents and electronic files or she’ll allow Justice Department lawyers to finish the job.
Federal prosecutors are investigating Cohen’s finances, including the "hush payment," and millions of pages of documents that were seized along with dozens of computers and mobile devices.
Avenatti, seeking to highlight his reason for being involved in the matter, told Wood that a reporter had contacted him for comment on an audio recording that Cohen appeared to have secretly made of a conversation he had with Clifford’s previous attorney at the time the hush deal was reached. He said the recording appeared to have been leaked by Cohen, possibly to damage Clifford.
Ryan, Cohen’s lawyer, said that if any such recordings exist, they’re "under lock and key."
Avenatti claimed there may be more audio recordings and said after court that Cohen should release them to the public.
Daniels sued Trump and Cohen to get out of the non-disclosure agreement, but her lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court was put on hold after the FBI raid.
Ryan’s complaints weren’t limited to Avenatti’s TV appearances -- 170 in total and 74 on CNN, he said. Avenatti made another CNN appearance later on Wednesday, where he denied having chosen publicity over participating in the case. He said if Daniels’s request to intervene isn’t dealt with, there’d be no need for him to take part in the hearings.
At the hearing, Ryan also noted Avenatti’s release of Cohen’s leaked banking information, which showed hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from companies with business before the U.S. government and an investment firm tied to a Russian oligarch. Ryan also told Wood about Avenatti’s allegedly improper behavior in an unrelated legal dispute involving the bankruptcy of his old law firm, saying such issues should disqualify Avenatti from being heard in the Cohen matter.
Avenatti argued he’d done nothing wrong. He pointed out the extensive publicity and harsh commentary made by Trump, as well as the president’s own encounters in bankruptcy court.
"There’s no evidence that we did anything improper," Avenatti said.
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