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Michael Avenatti announces he will not run for president in 2020

Key Points
  • Controversial lawyer Michael Avenatti said he will not run for president in 2020.
  • Avenatti, who first gained fame and infamy for his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in multiple legal cases involving President Donald Trump, said, "I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family."
  • Avenatti had said in July that he would consider mounting a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination if Trump sought re-election, and then "only if I think that there is no candidate in the race that has a real chance of beating him."
Michael Avenatti
Andrew Cullen | Reuters

Controversial lawyer Michael Avenatti announced Tuesday he will not run for president in 2020, months after saying he was weighing a bid for the White House.

"I do not make this decision lightly — I make it out of respect for my family," said Avenatti, who first gained fame and infamy for his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in multiple legal cases involving President Donald Trump.

"But for their concerns, I would run," he said in a statement posted on Twitter. The twice-married Avenatti has three children.

Avenatti, 47, had said in July that he would consider mounting a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination if Trump sought re-election, and then "only if I think that there is no candidate in the race that has a real chance of beating him."

Since then, the combative litigator, who had become a nearly constant presence on cable news chanels, had raised money for Democratic candidates for other offices, and made trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, who are among the first states to hold presidential nomination contests.

But along with his higher profile have come heightened criticism about his tactics and personal conduct.

Avenatti's decision not to press forward with a presidential run comes several weeks after police in Los Angeles arrested him in connection with an investigation into an accustation of domestic violence lodged by an actress, Mareli Miniutti, with whom he had been living.

He has strongly denied those claims as "completely bogus," and has not been criminally charged. The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office is continuing to investigate a possible misdemeanor charge in that case, after the LA County District Attorney declined to lodge a felony charge.

Avenatti is also embroiled in several legal fights related to debts involving his law firm, and an effort by Trump's lawyers to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees from a since-dismissed defamation lawsuit by Daniels against the president.

In October, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, referred claims made by Avenatti and another client of his, Julie Swetnick, to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. Grassley had cited "contradictions" in what Swetnick had told the Judiciary Committee and then NBC News about her claims of having seen, decades ago, current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh spiking drinks at parties so that girls could become inebriated and then gang raped.

Kavanaugh has denied those claims.

Avenatti has said he welcomed a Justice Department probe of Swetnick's claims, and also accused Grassley of not caring enough about those claims during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing to probe them further.

Daniels, who earlier had said she would drop Avenatti as her lawyer if the domestic violence allegations "prove true," last week said she was newly considering replacing him because he had "ignored" her requests to provide an accounting of funds raised by a crowdfunding site from her supporters.

Daniels told The Daily Beast last week that Avenatti also "has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show a client." She specifically said he had "spoken on my behalf without my approval" and had "filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes," and then launched "a new crowdfunding campaign using my name and face without my permission."

But on Sunday, Daniels in a tweet said she and Avenatti "have sorted" their issues out, and also said that the crowdfunding site was "on the up and up."

Daniels has claimed she had sex with Trump once in 2006, several months after his wife Melania gave birth to their son. The White House has denied her claims.

But Trump has admitted reimbursing his then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment Cohen gave Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for her promise to keep mum about her alleged affair with the president.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to several criminal charges, including campaign finance violations related to the payment to Daniels — which Cohen said was done at Trump's behest to affect the election — and another payment, by the publisher of the National Enquirer, to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had sex with Trump. The White House has denied McDougal's claims.

Shortly after announcing his decision not to run for the White House, Avenatti took a shot on Twitter at data science journalist Nate Silver for pointing out that "Avenatti was polling at 1 percent" among potential presidential contenders.

Michael Ahrens, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, in reaction to the news said, "For all of his flaws, Michael Avenatti has one thing right: the Democratic field is a disaster and the likely candidates 'have no real chance at winning.'"