Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti is driving Michael Cohen's legal team crazy, and that could be a fatal distraction

Key Points
  • Stormy Daniel's attorney Michael Avenatti has repeatedly gotten under the skin of the legal team for Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's lawyer.
  • Cohen is under investigation for business dealings and a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels on the eve of the presidential election.
  • Avenatti says that Cohen's actions will lead to his "downfall," and possibly to the fall of Trump himself.
Michael Avenatti, lawyer of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, arrives at federal court in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels appears to winning the PR campaign against Michael Cohen's legal team even when he loses — and seems on track to keep on driving Cohen crazy.

At a court hearing Wednesday, Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, was rebuffed, albeit temporarily, in his bid to have a federal judge allow him to keep representing her in connection with documents seized last month from President Donald Trump's personal attorney Cohen by the FBI.

Avenatti hours later formally withdrew from the court his request from the court.

But in retreating, Avenatti guaranteed that he will not be constrained by the judge in his ongoing, scathing cable news blitzkrieg against Trump and his lawyer, Cohen, a 51-year-old who is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York but has not been charged.

If Judge Kimba Wood had granted Avenatti what he was seeking, she noted, he would be effectively muzzled from commenting, as he has publicly, on Cohen's purported guilty, and from also releasing, as he has, non-public information Cohen.

Avenatti's media jihad has clearly gotten under the skin of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as Cohen's lawyer Stephen Ryan. Defense lawyers unconnected to the case said Cohen and his legal team would be better served preparing for what they believe is a likely indictment than focusing on fighting Avenatti.

But during Wednesday's hearing, Ryan spent much of his time on his feet in front of Judge Kimba Wood opposing Avenatti's request for admission into the case.

Special waiver

Avenatti needs a special waiver, which is routinely granted to lawyers, to appear in federal court in Manhattan because he currently is not admitted there.

Ryan fulminated against Avenatti, accusing him of committing a "drive-by shooting" on Cohen by releasing banking information that shows Cohen was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars last year by several companies. Two of those companies, Novartis and AT&T, have said that the payments they made to the president's personal lawyer were a mistake.

Cohen received the money via the same shell corporation he used to funnel a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to buy her silence about an affair she claims to have had with Trump.

Ryan said that the report Avenatti released about Cohen's company appears to have been based on federal records that by law are illegal to disclose by a government official.

"He intentionally recklessly and prejudicially released that information," Ryan said.

Ryan mentioned that Avenatti has made, to date, at least 170 media appearances talking about Cohen and Trump, both of whom he routinely bashes.

And Ryan brought up the fact that a law firm headed by Avenatti recently was hit by a $10 million judgment in bankruptcy court in favor of an attorney who previously worked at the firm.

Noting that he had never once in four decades of practice previously opposed the kind of admission to court that Avenatti sought, Ryan said "I don't believe that we are going to allow the court in the Southern District of New York to be treated this way" by Avenatti.

"I've never seen an attorney conduct himself the way Mr. Avenatti conducted himself," Ryan said.

Avenatti was unfazed by Ryan's broadside, quipping to Judge Wood, "That was quite a take."

Nothing improper

Avenatti also denied doing anything improper and noted the "irony" of his firm's bankruptcy and penchant for public statements being raised by Ryan, and later by a lawyer for the president, given Trump's frequent use of bankruptcy for his companies and for his repeated use of Twitter to attack legal opponents.

Outside of court, when asked by CNBC if he had rattled Cohen's team, Avenatti said, "I think Mr. Ryan and Mr. Cohen are very concerned and almost desperate to keep me out of this case."

"They don't want me speaking the truth. They don't want my client bringing the truth to the American people, they don't want my client disclosing information," Avenatti said.

He also noted that Ryan had effectively confirmed in court his suspicions that Cohen had recorded phone calls with Daniels' prior lawyer Keith Davidson, whom Avenatti believes may have discussed matters subject to Daniels' attorney-client privilege.

On Wednesday night, Avenatti said he believed there were also tapes in Cohen's possession of Cohen speaking with Trump.

"Ultimately they will be [Cohen's] downfall, and they may be the downfall of this president," Avenatti said.

Gerald Lefcourt, a leading criminal defense lawyer in New York City, said of Ryan's attack on Avenatti, "He's probably doing it for Michael Cohen's ego and not for any legal reason."

"I think it's probably Michael Cohen telling his lawyers to get this guy to shut the f--- up," Lefcourt said.

He added that targeting Avenatti is a distraction for Cohen from his bigger problem: the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"Cohen is going to get indicted," Lefcourt said. "He has to consider whether he cooperates [with prosecutors] or not to avoid jail. That's what should be on his mind, not what Avenatti says about him."

"But it's probably driving him crazy."

Christopher Brennan, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan now practicing criminal defense law, said, "The United State's Attorney's Office is a whole lot more dangerous" to Cohen than Avenatti is.

Brennan said that in focusing fire on Avenatti, Cohen's team are "making a lot of noise," but they are also "Making themselves look more guilty than they need to look." He mentioned the fact that instead of simply defending the payments by various companies to Cohen as legal, Cohen's lawyers have blasted Avenatti for disclosing them.

"You don't have to address every fire with an ocean's worth of water," Brennan said.

Brennan said Avenatti could have been muzzled, to a large degree, in the future if Ryan had withdrawn his opposition to Avenatti's admission to the case after Judge Wood noted he would have to abandon his "publicity tour" attacking Cohen.

"That would have been the smart play," Brennan said.